Category Archives: Electricity

Privat seizes Dniproblenergo

Figures connected to Ukraine’s powerful financial-industrial group Privat seized the offices of electricity distributor Dniproblenergo on Friday, in a move reminiscent of previous Privat-led corporate raids against the downstream oil company Ukrtatnafta and the power generator Dniproenergo.

The Dnipropetrovsk-based Dniproblenergo (the “obl” in the middle comes from oblast, meaning “regional”) is Ukraine’s largest power distributor, providing electricity to about 24 thousand enterprises — around 27% of Ukraine’s consumers.  The state-owned Electricity Company of Ukraine (EKU) controls 75% of the firm, with the Cyprus-based Larva Investments Ltd (a part of the Energy Standard group) owning 15.9% and the remaining 9.1% in the hands of minority shareholders.  This last category includes 3 shares owned by the Privat-connected company Business Invest.

Andrey Martinyuk, the director of Dniproblenergo from 2005-2006, was elected to return as head of the company after board changes made at an April 30th shareholders’ meeting attended by EKU and Privat and held at Dnepropetrovsk’s Palace of Culture. The government’s securities and exchange commission declared the meeting invalid, but Martinyuk continued to assert his legitimacy to the post.

At 8:00 AM on Friday, a few dozen guards from the Privat-controlled private security firm B.O.G. (an acronym for “Security. Protection. Guaranteed.” spelling the Russian word for God) broke into Dniproblenergo’s offices.  According to Kommersant’s account:

Plowing through the gates [to the office], they neutralized [Dniproblenergo’s on-site] security, broke through doors and forcefully ejected the company’s general director Edward Sokolovskiy from the building. Upon arriving on the scene of the altercation, the police were presented with a July 25th ruling from the Zhovtneviy district court of Dnipropetrovsk [declaring] the naming of Andey Martinyuk to the post of general director as legal.

Dniproblenergo’s chief accountant apparently escaped from the raid, managing to take away with her the firm’s official seal.  (Stamps are a big deal for organizations in Ukraine.)  Despite this, Martinyuk is proceeding as if under complete control of the company.

EKU, whose president is the former financial director of the Privat-controlled oil company Ukrnafta, supports the move, citing poor financial performance as the impetus for the change in management.  Martinyuk, the state electricity company’s choice for a replacement, had been the director of EKU’s distribution department.  The Fuel and Energy Ministry is also on-board with the seizure.

The ousted Sokolovskiy, who is connected to Rinat Akhmetov’s DTEK, accuses Privat and EKU of collaborating in an unlawful attempt to replace him.  He denies financial problems, saying that the raid “could be connected to the fact that in 2007, the company increased its profits by 7.5 times — to UAH 86.8 million [$18 million].”  This figure does not match other reports claiming that the profits for 2007 stood at UAH 28.3 ($5.9 million).

The press office of Alexander Turchinov, Yulia Tymoshenko’s first deputy prime minister, announced that the seizure would be examined by a government commission this week.  A statement circulated by his office said that “We will make efforts to prevent raiders attacks by the side of the Privat group.”

The same security firm was used in the October 2007 seizure of the Kremenchug offices of Ukrtatnafta, where once again a former head of the company was reappointed under the guise of saving the firm from financial ruin.

In March 2008, B.O.G. led an attack at Dniproenergo but the raid was expected and rebuffed under the presence of the press.  The fate of the electricity generator remains in limbo, as Privat, Rinat Akhmetov, Tymoshenko and President Yushchenko all have interests in the matter.

Kommersant ends its article by listing a couple of other sites that may fall victim to Privat-led seizures, including the Crimean Generator Systems, Luganskteplovozu and the Dnipropetrovsk (sunflower seed) oil extraction factory TM Oleina.

As the Ekonomicheskie Izvestia article sums up,

Dneproblenergo, together with Dneproenergo and a range of other energy-providing companies, is one of the objects of conflict in the protracted battle [conflict] between the current leadership of the Fuel and Energy Ministry on the one hand and, on the other, the management of the energy companies that was appointed during the period of [former PM] Viktor Yanukovich’s government.

The tactics in this battle include moves such as these dramatic corporate raids, gerrymandered shareholders’ meetings, control over the physical shareholder register, competing judicial decisions and proxy confrontations in the political spectrum.

Of course, while they may make for interesting reading, such events are not very helpful for Ukraine’s business world…

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Akhmetov’s SCM weighs in on Dniproenergo: Kolomoisky is no “Robin Hood”

Yulia, don't steal, Dniproenergo for the people!

A walk through Kyiv shows that the fate of Dniproenergo is far from sealed, as PR posters from both sides of the conflict continue to pepper the city. (The majority seem to be anti-Privat, however — more pictures appended at the end of the post).

A decision earlier this month by Ukraine’s Supreme Court deemed a debt-for-equity plan instituted last year at the major electricity producer illegal:

The controversial restructuring plan that was struck down saw the state’s share lowered to 50%+1 through a supplementary stock issue that resulted in magnate [Rinat] Akhmetov’s Donbass Fuel and Energy Company (DTEK) gaining control of about 44% in Dneproenergo. DTEK, in turn, agreed to pay about $10 million, take on the company’s loans totaling around $200 million, and provide another $200 million in investment.

The shareholders had accepted this agreement and it was recognized by the government’s securities and stocks commission. However, Dniproenergo’s registrar, Ukrneftegaz, refused to amend the company’s shareholders’ register. Ukrneftegaz is controlled by Privat, a key owner of which [Igor Kolomoisky] recently expressed frustration at the manner in which Dniproenergo’s share issue had been handled. [The Mirror Weekly has an excellent rundown of Privat’s use of shareholder registers in various corporate management disputes.]

A Privat-affiliated company and minority shareholder in Dniproenergo (owning 257 shares, or 0.00655%) launched the lawsuit against the restructuring plan, culminating in the [April 8th] Supreme Court ruling.

While this decision paved the way for Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s privatization plan for the electricity generator, President Yushchenko soon after halted the implementation of Tymoshenko’s vision.

The court ruling also threw Dniproenergo’s financial status into jeopardy, as the company once more finds itself in bankruptcy.

Ukrainian breakthrough, Dniproenergo for the people

Last Wednesday Dniproenergo sent an open letter to “the country’s leadership,” namely Yushchenko, Tymoshenko, and Rada Speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk, pleading for intervention from the government and a return to the way things were before the Supreme Court decision.

The inclusion of the political angle gives the dispute further depth. Not only do we see a battle between the businesses of two of Ukraine’s richest men (Akhmetov is #1, Kolomoisky is #3), but also a continuation of the near-constant conflict between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko.

She needs these privatizations to proceed in order to pay for her ambitious social programs. He has intimated that her privatization docket is set up to unfairly benefit certain political supporters.

The disagreements have led to a nasty battle over the leadership of the important State Property Fund.

From the Eurasian Daily Monitor:

Yushchenko canceled Tymoshenko’s orders to replace the head of the privatization body, the State Property Fund (FDM), and to privatize one of the last big factories still remaining in state ownership, the Odessa Portside Plant (OPZ). Tymoshenko, with the courts on her side, disobeyed and instructed her subordinates, perhaps for the first time ever, to ignore Yushchenko’s orders. Yushchenko sent his guards to protect the FDM from Tymoshenko’s team, and confrontation between the Presidential Guard and police was barely avoided.

An even larger conflict is looming, as both Yushchenko and Tymoshenko envision constitutional reform that would sway the balance of power to their respective branches of government.

Cases such as the Dniproenergo are a good example of how allegiances overlap, transcending political boundaries and affecting billion dollar businesses.

I had earlier translated sections of an interview given by Privat‘s Igor Kolomoisky dealing with the ongoing Dniproenergo dispute.

Last week Oleg Popov, the general director of Akhmetov’s holding company System Capital Management (SCM), gave a wide-ranging interview to Kommersant. In the interest of providing equal time, here are excerpts from the interview dealing with the Dniproenergo disupte (my translation):

– Have you already made a decision on how you will contest the Supreme Court’s ruling on Dniproenergo?

First we should see it and read the justifying section (мотивировочная часть). For two weeks we haven’t yet seen it. But I figure that we have, as the lawyers say, “a very strong case,” so most likely we will contest the decision and stand up for our rights in court. We’re sure that nothing was illegal.

– Will you contest it anew under open circumstances or in a European court?

That will depend on the justifying section.

– Are you planing on refraining from investing in Dniproenergo in connection to this decision?

The government doesn’t have an issue with the quality and process of the [debt-for-equity] rescue plan [санация] for the enterprise. We remain willing to invest in the facility, if such investment is deemed necessary by the enterprise and the government.

– Is it possible to talk about the political motivations of this decision?

Of course not! Take a look at what essentially took place. You’ve got a minority shareholder–a representative of Privat Group which sued the company Dniproenergo, contesting the supplementary share issue and the conducting of the [shareholders] meeting. They claim that their rights were allegedly infringed upon by us conducting this supplementary issue. That is, this case is exculsively between two business entities over the legitimacy of the conduction of a shareholders meeting and other procedures of the rescue.

Everything else–that’s PR from Privat, talk of “justice” [справедливость] and “the interests of the government.” What do we see here? A very simple picture. We have people who are interested in satisfying their personal interests and recollecting [восстановить, renewing] their “justice.” What interest Privat has, I’m not exactly sure. But judging by the numerous crusades for “justice” undertaken by Privat, for example the case with the Nikopolsky ferroalloy plant (NZF), all these discussions on “justice” and “the interests of the people” end once Privat gets commercial participation in a project. And by no means competitively. [И отнюдь не на конкурсе.]

– Yes, but the co-owner of Privat Igor Kolomoisky says that he is fighting for justice…

Do you want to call him Robin Hood?

– He so named himself in an interview with the internet publication Ukrainskaya Pravda…

I don’t see around him the large number of admirers that typically surround a people’s hero, standing up for justice.

– Mr. Kolomoisky levied accusations against you claiming that the permission for Energy Company of Ukraine (EKU) to vote for the rescue was given by [then] Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich. By doing so, he played into Rinat Akhmetov’s hand as a shareholder in Dneproenergo…

We never used any preferential treatment from the state regardless of who was leading the government [i.e. the PM]. Moreover, the rescue plan was approved not by the [PM-controlled] Cabinet of Ministers, but by the Zaporizhye regional business court [where Dniproenergo is located]. We didn’t have any preferential treatment in relationship to other participants of the the tender on the conduction of the rescue. Anyone who wanted to propose their own rescue plan, they proposed it. The creditors chose our proposal since we propsed more money and the instant repayment of [Dniproenergo’s] debts. We didn’t have any preferential treatment and we don’t want to have any in the future. If we will have it, we can become weak and uncompetitive. No one needs this, above all our shareholders.

– Then why did you decide to carry out the rescue exactly in last year?

If the enterprise hadn’t recovered during 2007, then from Jan. 1st, 2008, it would have gone under the hammer [i.e., to auction]. We at that moment were minority shareholders, owning 18% of the shares in Dniproenergo. We had a goal: provide long term growth to the worth of the enterprise. We were and remain interested in its financial health. We, as creditors, were invited to participate in the competition for the rescue, and we won it. We proposed a real plan of action, invested the money, saved this enterprise and are prepared to invest further. But shareholders, who have about 2 or 3 shares, are dissatisfied with the situation and launched countless legal actions in order to turn everything around.

– Igor Kolomoisky stated that Dneproenergo didn’t settle up the debts with his companies. That, in principal, is the reason that he gave for the current conflict. Is that so?

That’s not true. Dneproenergo fulfilled its debts to all its creditors, at least those who have been able to support their claims, which would include Privat if they were in the register [of debts].

– According to you, the state is not at all participating in the Dneproenergo case?

As concerning state organs, as far as we know, they don’t have an issue with the rescue of the enterprise and our participation in it. The state doesn’t take part in court processes and doesn’t initiate them. Attempts to win back [отыграть] the situation and return Dneproenergo into bankruptcy are being carried out only by Privat. It’s them [Privat] that has an issue.

– Then how would you comment on the fact that the Vice Minister of Justice Evgeniy Korniychuk predicted the results of the case two weeks before hand?

(Pause.) At a minimum, it’s strange. If you take into account that the government organs don’t have any claims to us, because they are not involved in the court process, then it is strange to hear such a statement.

– According to our information, Mr. Korniychuk also met with the Supreme Court judges on the day the decision was given.

(Pause.) You asked me [earlier in the interview], what other problems exist in conducting business in Ukraine. If your information is correct, that speaks to the fact that judicial power, which should be independent, appears [is, является] not to be so.

– Returning to the claims of Mr. Kolomoisky against you. He says that the $400 million that you paid is too small for the 28% of shares that you got.

When we made the decision to take part in the rescue of Dniproenergo, the total worth of Dniproenergo on the PFTS [Ukraine’s major stock exchange] was at the level of about $460 million. We proposed to pay and paid for the supplementary shares based on an assessment of the entire enterprise to be worth $1.2 billion.

– Then why did Mr. Kolomoisky value only the share you received at $1.2 billion?

Probably his managers simply got confused during the calculations.

– Nonetheless, the shares of Dniproenergo rose in the last year, and now the share packet that you received is worth, based on the PFTS quotation, $626 million.

Let me tell you a another story. Do you remember Krivorozhstal? (He draws a picture with two scales, Time and Worth.) If we take 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007. We skip 2006, because then nothing happened. In 2002-2003, metallurgy was stagnating. The estimated value of all the metal enterprise groups (меткомбинаты) in the world was not very high. Upon reaching 2004, a medium-term growth tendency was noticed for metallurgy. In this year we took part in the competition for Krivorozhstal and won it, paying $800 million. In connection to the fact that the political situation in the country changed, in 2005 that enterprise went through a re-privatization process, and it was sold at auction for $4.8 billion. Mitall Steel won.

Two years pass. The world metallurgy market is now rising and growing at a quick tempo. Now Krivorozhstal is worth $15 billion. What are we to do with it? Where is the justice? If guided by the logic of 2005, then maybe the government ought to once again re-privatize the metalworks factory? And sell it for $15 billion, returning $4.8 to Mittal Steel? In two years, Mittal couldn’t do anything that would make the worth of the enterprise grow at such a rate. Indeed, the company’s growth in value was in connection to the entire industry–the market for iron ore and steal also grew. So would it be just to sell it again? Is a third time necessary? Would that be just?

If we are going to operate not based on an understanding of law, but on an understanding of justice, you can hardly talk about their being clear rules of the game for investors in our country. And you can hardly say that we have an attractive investment climate.

Note: I have at times switched between spelling the company “Dniproenergo” and “Dneproenergo.” These are the Ukrainian and Russian transliterations, respectively. It is spelled both ways in the media, depending on the language of the medium. While I tend more often to use the “i” variant, I like to include the spelling with “e” every once in a while in order to help pick up search engine-driven traffic. Such is the prerogative of a blogger.


Private money vs. Just [fair] law

 


In front of TGI Fridays…


Stuck in traffic in front of the club Avalon

Supreme Court backs Tymoshenko’s vision of Dneproenergo

4/12/08 – Updated with the responses of President Yushchenko and Rinat Akhemtov below

Ukraine's Supreme Court ruled in favor of PM Tymoshenko on the Dniproenergo ownership struggle - From dniproenergo.ua

Yesterday Ukraine’s Supreme Court ruled that the ownership restructuring and debt consolidation plan that significantly boosted Rinat Akhmetov’s share in Dniproenergo last fall was illegal. This decision supported the complaints of the financial conglomerate Privat while paving the way for Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s privatization plan for the major electricity generator.

This ruling came on the heels of another Supreme Court decision concerning Ukrtatnafta that also benefited Tymoshenko’s vision for Ukraine’s energy sphere.

The decision confirms Tymoshenko’s assertion that the state-owned Electricity Company of Ukraine (EKU) owns just over 75% of Dneproenergo. The controversial restructuring plan that was struck down saw the state’s share lowered to 50%+1 through a supplementary stock issue that resulted in magnate Akhmetov’s Donbass Fuel and Energy Company (DTEK) gaining control of about 44% in Dneproenergo. DTEK, in turn, agreed to pay about $10 million, take on the company’s loans totaling around $200 million, and provide another $200 million in investment.

The shareholders had accepted this agreement and it was recognized by the government’s securities and stocks commission. However, Dniproenergo’s registrar, Ukrneftegaz, refused to amend the company’s shareholders’ register. Ukrneftegaz is controlled by Privat, a key owner of which recently expressed frustration at the manner in which Dniproenergo’s share issue had been handled.

A Privat-affiliated company and minority shareholder in Dniproenergo (owning 257 shares, or 0.00655%) launched the lawsuit against the restructuring plan, culminating in the latest Supreme Court ruling.

While the state now regains legal authority of around 76% in Dniproenergo–with Tymoshenko hoping to sell 60%+1, according to her privatization plan–the electricity company once again finds itself in financial problems as a result. This is underscored by the subheading of Kommersant’s article on the ruling, which reads “Dneproenergo is once again bankrupt.”

DTEK apparently remains the holder of Dniproenergo’s debt, giving it potential influence while the company is in a state of bankruptcy. This will likely complicate efforts by EKU and the government (and possibly Privat) to install new management for Dniproenergo and continue on the privatization plan.

DTEK criticized the ruling and promised to turn to European courts and appeal the decision (my translation):

“Unfortunately, the court in this case did not rule solely by the letter of the law, but acted in the interests of the Privat Group, which has organized a mass raiders attack on Dneproenergo

The raiders, acting with one goal and attracting to their side some government officials from EKU and the Ministry of Fuel and Energy, attempted one thing — to return Dneproenergo into bankruptcy and under the guise of protecting the interests of the government, insert into the genco’s [electricity generating company] ranks of leadership managers loyal to the Privat Group…

We expect that today’s decision by the Supreme Court will be disputed in European courts, which are not subject to pressure and influence and are hopefully protected from the lobbying of financial-industrial groups.”

Indeed, the details of the Supreme Court’s decision, as relayed to Kommersant by a court source, raise suspicion of undue outside influence.

On Monday, Deputy Minister of Justice Evegeny Korniychuk met with each Supreme Court Justice separately for a closed-door meeting to discuss the Dniproenergo decision. Korniychuk had stated in late March that the Supreme Court “must make a decision” [“обязательно примет решение”] on the cancellation of the share issue. (The Kommersant article seems to imply that he was urging for a decision that would rule the restructuring illegal, but this is a bit up to interpretation.)

Kommersant also notes that the court seemingly came into the case with a preordained decision (my translation):

Curiously, the hearing on Dneproenergo yesterday lasted not more than 40 minutes. “The judges listened to the arguments of both sides, deliberated for about 15 minutes and then came out with their already-prepared decision laid out in a few pages,” said Dneproenergo board member Dmitry Tevelev (who was present at the court session). According to Andrei Astapov, a partner at the law firm Astapov Lawyers, such a quick announcement of a decision is only possible when the result is known in advance.

If such machinations are true, this emphasizes the paucity of rule of law within Ukraine even at the highest levels, despite being the focus of many international aid efforts. It also casts doubt on the decision, regardless of whether or not it was legally sound. Abnormalities in the manner in which the ruling was reached obviously reflect poorly on that eventual decision.

Last fall’s original restructuring plan drew criticism because the government, under then-PM Viktor Yanukovich from the Party of Regions (Rinat Akhmetov is a fellow Regions parliamentary deputy), essentially signed off on a deal organized solely in back rooms.

Tymoshenko has pushed for the cancellation of the deal and sees a privatization tender as a way to let potential investors compete and draw in more funds. “We decided to begin a clean privatization of thermal [i.e. coal and gas] electricity generators. This step should interest serious investors,” she said of her electricity sector privatization plan.

And while Dniproenergo’s shares surged 6% yesterday on news of the decision, there is speculation that this rise was essentially engineered by Privat in an attempt to show that investors agreed with the Court’s ruling. Since February, Dniproenergo’s capitalization has dropped by about $250 million.

Despite an ostensibly admiral goal of Tymoshenko, the methods being taken and the tactics being resorted to–by all sides (the parliament’s Committee of Justice, led by a Party of Regions deputy, was lobbying just as hard for DTEK)–paint the entire Dniproenergo issue in a rather poor light.

Update (4/10/08): “I respect the court’s decision,” says Akhmetov. “We have two roads: we can challenge it, or if the supplementary stock sale is illegal, then we have payed more than UAH 1 billion ($200 million) and the government should return that. Soon we will publicly say, which way we will choose.” (4/12/08 — Taras at Ukrainiana has video of Akhemtov’s quote uploaded. Thanks.)

Update (4/12/08): President Yushchenko has stepped into the fray, signing a decree on Friday that suspends Tymoshenko’s privatization plans for Dniproenergo and three other gencos. He (via his secretariat) has been critical of the government’s privatization docket, particularly the electricity companies. Yushchenko has implied that Tymoshenko is planning to use the sales in order to reward her political backers.

The two politicians have feuded over the fate of the head of the state property fund committee, the key organ in privatization procedures. Yushchenko has also used anti-trust reasoning in past attempts to suspend the sale of other assets, like the Odessa chemical plant.
As quoted by the Reuters article on the story, this decree attempts to find constitutional justification for the presidential-ordered suspension:

“The decisions and orders of the cabinet do not comply with the first part of Article 17 of the Constitution of Ukraine, according to which ensuring economic security is one of the most important functions of the government.”

Tymoshenko is relying on a full slate of privatizations this year in order to pad the government’s budget and fund her populist program of returning lost Soviet-era savings. Less controversial sales may yet continue, as progress is being made on the plan to privatize nearly 70% of Ukrtelekom. The starting price was recently set at $2.4 billion.

Any major privatization would likely be seen as a win for Tymoshenko, and she may be better off pushing for whatever she can get at this point.

Privat-led seizure of Dniproenergo rebuffed

Privat's grab at Dniproenergo was rejected last week; still waiting for officials to call a foul... -- From scouts.com / AP

On Friday, two private security firms (and a handful of Party of Regions deputies) tussled in front of the Zaporizhye offices of Dniproenergo in an apparent attempt by Privat and the state-owned Energy Company of Ukraine (EKU) to take control of the regional electricity firm. The attempted seizure was rebuffed, but a secretive shareholders’ meeting of disputed legality was held “in close proximity” later in the day in another effort to appoint Privat-affiliated figures to the company’s board.

The government’s shareholder regulation commission refused to support the legality of this meeting and the management appointed by the currently-accepted ownership–50%+1 owned by EKU, 44% by Rinat Akhmetov’s Donbass Fuel and Energy Company (DTEK)–will remain in place. However, another shareholders’ meeting scheduled for March 27th promises to deliver more intrigue.

  • Dniproenergo is one of Ukraine’s largest electricity generating companies, with its three thermal power plants combining for a capacity of about 8 gigawatts. In 2007 the company reported a profit of about $24 million on over $765 million in revenue. Controversy over ownership of the firm has arisen since an August 2007 supplementary stock issue. The sale, which was approved by the outgoing Viktor Yanukovich government, dropped EKU’s share from 76% to 50%+1 and raised DTEK’s stake by 26% to about 44%–above the 40% threshold needed to block company decisions. DTEK allegedly paid about $10 million for the shares and also agreed to assume around $190 million in Dniproenergo’s debt as well as to make future infrastructure investments.DTEK, an energy holding company composed of coal and electricity assets, reported profits of over $190 million last year. It is owned by Rinat Akhmetov (via his massive holding company System Capital Management), who is a deputy in Yanukovich’s political party as well as Ukraine’s richest citizen.
Dniproenergo was the location of another attempted corporate raid by Privat last week.

Both EKU and Privat–which, via its subsidiary Business Invest, owns 0.0065% in Dniproenergo–have contested the controversial sale. A court case spearheaded by Privat that challenges the stock issue is currently being considered by Ukraine’s Supreme Court after a lower court ruled in favor of DTEK.

While EKU is government-owned, it is seen to be an ally of Privat, particularly in this fight. EKU’s current president is the former financial director of Ukrnafta, an oil company essentially controlled by Privat. Also, neither EKU nor Privat is interested in Akhmetov being in control of Dniproenergo. Ukraine’s current Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, sharply criticized the stock sale during her campaigning last fall, alleging that Akhmetov used his political connections to increase his share of Dniproenergo to a bargain price. Privat is apparently interested in obtaining the potentially lucrative asset itself. A privatization of Dniproenergo–along with three other regional power generators–has been announced, but the terms and viability of such a sale remain vague. (Update: Comments from Tymoshenko on privatization plans in English.)

Government, return Dniproenergo to your side!

Tensions had been growing in advance of a shareholders meeting that was scheduled for last Friday, March 21st. Competing propaganda posters began appearing in the streets of Kyiv last week. On Thursday, Ukraine’s Fuel and Energy Minister announced the government’s intent to change Dniproenergo’s leadership at the next day’s meeting.

Also on Thursday, Vladislav Lukyanov, a fellow deputy of Akhmetov and Yanukovich in the Party of Regions (PoR), warned there could be an attempted forceful seizure of Dniproenrgo’s office. In expectation of trouble, Dniproenergo invited members of the press to its office on Friday. Also present were five PoR representatives, including Lukyanov and Elbrus Tedeyev, an Olympic gold medal winner in freestyle wrestling.

An audience was therefore on hand to document the resulting physical confrontation.

As retold by Kommersant, early Friday morning about thirty camouflaged men from the Dnipropetrovsk private security firm “Security. Protection. Guaranteed.” (whose Russian initials, БОГ, spell out “God”) stormed Dniproenergo’s offices and clashed with the company’s own security team as well as the PoR deputies. (The PoR’s experience in obstructing the work of Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada by blockading the rostrum and dais must have come in handy.)

Privat is based in Dnipropetrovsk, and the same security firm was earlier used in seizures of a Kremenchug steal mill and Ukrtatnafta’s oil refinery.

However, the raiders could not gain access to the building and retreated in their minibuses after Dniproenergo called in guards from the prestigious security firm Berkut (Golden Eagle). Things then quieted down giving the defenders time to lick their wounds–one deputy had his coat torn and others came away with bruises.

By 11 AM, the State Commission on Securities and the Stock Market (GKTsBFR) acknowledged that no legally valid shareholders’ meeting could have taken place, as regulations called for any meeting to occur on the company premises between 8 and 10 AM.

The fued between Privat and SCM is likely to continue over the fate of Dniproenergo

However, this didn’t stop EKU and Privat from attempting to convene a shareholders meeting “in close proximity to [Dniproenergo’s] office,” according to the head of EKU’s corporate law department, Alexander Maliy. Justification for the meeting centered on the refusal to recognize the result of the supplementary stock issue, meaning that EKU still owns over 75% of the company giving it the right to make unilateral management decisions.

This interpretation is allegedly supported by the figures in Dniproenergo’s shareholder register, which is controlled by the controversial financial firm Ukrneftegaz. Ukrneftegaz, in charge of keeping the registers for energy companies with significant government ownership, is owned by Privat. The same firm is implicated in the ownership dispute still raging over Ukrtatnafta (expect an update from me soon).

At the secretive shareholders meeting, the EKU “elected” a new board of observers for Dniproenergo that is full of Privat-affiliated figures. Lukyanov dismissed the results of the meeting, saying that “after the storming was unsuccessful, Privat decided to place its leadership into the firm by a different manner.”

Dniproenergo also refuses to accept the result of this meeting, pointing to a court ruling annulling the meeting as well as various procedural violations. “We have nothing to disprove,” says Dniproenergo board member, Dimitry Tevelev. “An illegitimate decision cannot be implemented.”

Another shareholders meeting is scheduled for March 27th. The other major state-controlled power generating companies also have shareholders meetings scheduled in the near future–Kievenergo on March 28th, Zapadenergo on April 2nd, Tsenterenergo on April 3rd, Donbassenergo on April 15th, and Krimenergo on April 22rd. Management changes are on the agenda for all of them.

Some analysts are predicting that the physical confrontation with Dniproenergo is the first step of a coordinated effort between Privat (which controls the books) and EKU (which has the votes) at remaking the leadership structure of Ukraine’s power generators. We’ll see if the next steps are as action-packed as the first one was.

Update (3/25/08): Protesters gathered outside the Fuel and Energy Ministry in Kyiv holding anti-Privat signs. They are the usual subjects: bored-looking students and cranky pensioners willing to hold a sign for a little money. I asked them what they thought of the conflict, but didn’t get much in the way of a response besides a general belief that Akhmetov “is right.” Here’s a couple pictures from the “rally.”

Anti-Privat signs in front of Ukraine's Fuel and Energy Ministry
“Dniproenergo for the people, not for Privat!”

Anti-Privat signs in front of Ukraine's Fuel and Energy Ministry
“Take care of state–not Privat–interests!”

Anti-Privat signs in front of Ukraine's Fuel and Energy Ministry
“Dniproenergo in the hands of Privat = energy crisis in Ukraine!”

Deripaska expands his energy interests

Putin and Deripaska in 2006 - From Kremlin.ru Despite running into obstacles in his attempt to acquire Mikhail Gutseriev’s Russneft, Oleg Deripaska is continuing to pursue strategic energy assets. Vedomosti is reporting that Deripaska’s Basic Element is planning on bidding for a stake this fall in the electricity holding TGK-1. Gazprom, Viktor Vekselberg, and the Finnish company Fortum had all previously reported interest in the electricity firm, which powers St. Petersburg and was formed in 2005 from the assets of Lenenergo, Kolenergo, an Karelengro.

TGK-1 is currently controlled by Anatoly Chubais’ UES (of which Deripaska owns about 2%), but the electricity giant has been selling off some of its assets in order to raise money to modernize its aging infrastructure. Earlier this year, Fortum was blocked from gaining control of TGK-1 due to the firm’s strategic role of providing power to St. Petersburg. The Finnish company would likely seek to import some Russian power into Finland, since Finnish electricity rates are higher than Russia’s subsidized prices (and Russian energy sources — natural gas, specifically — are much cheaper than what is available in Finland). It seems Russia may allow Fortum to take part in the upcoming auction, so long as a balancing force could be found.

Gazprom already invested heavily into Mosenergo, the electricity firm that powers Moscow, and has about a 10% stake in UES. The electricity firm relies on natural gas (i.e. Gazprom) for about 70% of its power generation needs, and Gazprom views its investment in UES as a way to coordinate with its largest domestic customer on sales, modernization, and diversification. (Converting power plants to coal frees up more gas for the lucrative export market, for example.)

According to the Vedomosti article, Deripaska has been pursuing power generating assets in areas surrounding his aluminum plants, suggesting he is seeking control over a further extension of his industrial base. Pursuing TGK-1, however, has more strategic–and visceral–reach, due to its importance to St. Petersburg, which is Putin’s city. Some of his top aids in the energy sector were involved in Lenenergo early on, and it is doubtful he’d agree to have the firm passed into unqualified hands.

It will be interesting to see how Deripaska’s attempt to acquire TGK-1 will play out, especially concerning “competition” from Gazprom and Vekselburg (not to mention the foreign Fortum). Deripaska is already seemingly running into problems with Rosneft over the fate of Russneft — it would likely be tough for him to butt heads with Gazprom at the same time. One thing to look out for is whether Deripaska would be willing to cede control over Russneft in order to secure access to TGK-1.