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By John Helmer, Moscow

After announcing early in the week that 50% of Sovcomflot’s shares will be sold over the next two years, between 2011 and 2013, government officials today refused to tell Fairplay what valuation the government has put on the shipping company, and how much cash the sell-off has been targeted to raise.

The federal Ministry of Economic Development, which supervises privatization of state-owned assets like Sovcomflot, disclosed to Moscow media this week that the first share sale, planned for next year, will be for a 25% stake. This will be followed a year later by the sale of 25% less 1 share.

It had earlier been announced that one of the stakes is to go to a strategic investor; he will be chosen behind closed doors at the Kremlin. Gennady Timchenko, owner of Gunvor, the Geneva-based oil trader, is the frontrunner unless the entire transaction plan is disrupted by the UK High Court, which will decide who is guilty in the case of the Sergei Frank, current chief executive, versus his predecessor, Dmitry Skarga. A ruling by the court is expected after the holidays end in January.

It isn’t clear whether, according to the Kremlin’s current plan, the sale of Sovcomflot to a strategic investor will precede, or follow an initial public offering of shares. Also undisclosed is whether the favoured investor will get his stake in Sovcomflot at a discount to the official or the IPO valuation.

Economic Ministry spokesman Taras Sobko refused today to say what valuation the government is putting on Sovcomflot.

The ministry is more forthcoming with information of decidedly less import. For example, one of the conditions for the strategic investor, disclosed to the Moscow press, is that he will be obliged to order newbuilds for the Sovcomflot tanker fleet at domestic yards. Currently, Sovcomflot’s of 150-vessel fleet, 138 were built outside Russia.

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