Gazprom still interested in buying state oil firm Rosneft's assets

Hungry to expand into the oil sector, Russian gas giant Gazprom said Friday it is still eyeing the state-owned Rosneft oil company's assets as an acquisition target, despite the two companies' scrapped merger plans.

Rolling Rosneft into Gazprom would have given the state a controlling stake in the gas giant and opened the way for restrictions on foreigners owning its shares to be removed. Rosneft's disputed acquisition of a giant subsidiary of the troubled Yukos oil company in December complicated those plans, however, and last month the government said it would pay cash to Gazprom to acquire control.

"The money we'll get is a seriously large investment resource," Alexander Medvedev, Gazprom's deputy chief executive, said at a news conference Friday. "We've said before that we'll be looking at oil and gas assets. I can't rule out that we'll look at Rosneft's assets if it's interested and we're interested."

Medvedev's comments come amid rumors that Gazprom is positioning itself to buy billionaire Chelsea soccer club owner Roman Abramovich's Sibneft oil company, and the Russian half of BP PLC's TNK-BP joint venture.

Officials have said that US$6 billion (Ђ4.9 billion) to US$8 billion (Ђ6.54 billion) would be a fair price for the government to pay to take control of Gazprom. The government plans to attract loans to cover the purchase, which it would then pay down by selling Rosneft stock.

Separately, Medvedev said that he expects export revenues at the world's biggest natural gas producer to rise by more than a third this year from US$18.3 billion (Ђ14.95 billion) to US$25 billion (Ђ20.43 billion).

"Most of the increase is coming from high oil prices and, correspondingly, high prices on oil products that are elements in our price formulas," Medvedev said.

Gazprom relies on its exports to cover the loss-making domestic side of its business.

Medvedev said the company plans to export 145 billion cubic meters (5.119 trillion cubic feet) of gas to Western and Central Europe this year compared to 140.5 billion cubic meters (4.96 trillion cubic feet) in 2004.

Gazprom's biggest European customers are Germany, which bought 36.1 billion cubic meters (1.274 trillion cubic feet) in 2004; Italy, which purchased 21.6 billion cubic meters (762 billion cubic feet) in the same period; and Turkey, with 14.5 billion cubic meters (512 billion cubic feet).

ALEX NICHOLSON, Associated Press Writer

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