Kremlin dismisses talk of ousting Nornickel President after fuel spill

FILE PHOTO: President and Chairman of the Board of MMC Norilsk Nickel Vladimir Potanin attends a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), Russia June 6, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo

MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin dismissed on Friday the idea of ousting Norilsk Nickel President Vladimir Potanin after a Russian lawmaker said he should go following an Arctic fuel spill late last month.

Shares in Nornickel, the world’s leading nickel and palladium producer, have been hit since Russian President Vladimir Putin this week upbraided officials over what he said was a bungled state response after a leak of fuel into a river.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday that he had not heard any speculation about the possible nationalisation of Nornickel and that there was nothing to comment on. The priority was to clear up the spill and then an investigation would decide if anyone was guilty, he said.

Putin will meet officials later on Friday to discuss the incident, Peskov said, adding that Potanin would attend.

Potanin is the largest shareholder in Nornickel with a 34.6% stake. Another large shareholder is Russian aluminium producer Rusal, which relies on dividends from Nornickel in tough years and has had a number of shareholder rows with Potanin about the payments.

In a rare show of public support, Potanin’s ex-business partner and former Nornickel co-owner, Mikhail Prokhorov issued a statement on Friday saying that Potanin was an effective crisis manager who would resolve the fuel spill situation.

“Groundless calls for nationalisation of the largest private enterprise, maligning of the reputation of a businessman, as well as public calls by some government officials to use investigative agencies to change owners and management of the company form a dangerous precedent,” said Prokhorov, who sold his stake in Nornickel to Rusal in 2008.

“This is a serious threat to everyone who runs and develops private businesses in the country, from small restaurants to industrial giants,” he added.

Reporting by Anastasia Teterevleva and Polina Devitt; writing by Polina Devitt; editing by Jason Neely, Kirsten Donovan

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