Aluminum tycoons clash again

After appearing to agree to a no-raiding pledge a year ago, Siberian Ural Aluminum Company (SUAL), owned by Viktor Vekselberg, and Russian Aluminum (RusAl), owned by Oleg Deripaska, have clashed anew, the Russia Journal reported. This time the fight -- similar to the last one in late 2002 -- is over shareholding control of the aluminium sector's tidbits, the Volkhov aluminium smelter and the Pikalevo alumina refinery.

Maxim Titov, spokesman for SUAL, said that recently RusAl had outbid SUAL for a 14 percent state owned shareholding in OAO Metallurg, a Russian company which owns Volkhov and Pikalevo. Titov acknowledged there is a conflict between SUAL and RusAl over the 14 percent share sale, but he declined to say at what price Deripaska had bested Vekselberg for the shares.

The unexpected share raid is embarrassing for Vekselberg because, without the shares, he cannot claim that SUAL has 100-percent ownership of its assets, and without that credibility, he cannot go to the international markets with his plea to investors to cash him out of SUAL. Who would give Vekselberg a billion dollars for assets he doesn't control tightly enough to prevent his most deadly rival from capturing?

SUAL hinted at the time that Deripaska's raid was a violation of a gentleman's agreement between Vekselberg and Deripaska that neither man would attack each other's aluminium business.

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