Wealthy Russians Invest in Gold

Wealthy Russians Invest in Gold

Russia's wealthiest are piling into the bullion sector and eight of the country's 10 richest men are investing in gold.

This week, OAO Severstal, the Russian steel maker owned and run by billionaire Alexei Mordashov, said most of London's Celtic Resources Holdings PLC shareholders, which has gold projects in Kazakhstan, had tendered to a $328 million takeover bid.

Last week, Russia's richest man, Roman Abramovich, and his partners agreed to pay $400 million for a 40% stake in Highland Gold Mining Ltd., Russia's fourth-largest bullion producer. The sudden focus of Russia's billionaires on gold comes as the metal hit a 28-year-high last month and hovers near $800 an ounce.

Yet bullish prospects for the metal may not be the only driver. With the Kremlin controlling the bulk of Russia's oil and gas assets, gold is one of the few domestic resources left where the Russian oligarchs, who made their fortunes during the former Soviet Union's chaotic transition from communism to capitalism, can park their funds.

As well, the Russian parliament has drafted new legislation aiming to keep its largest gold deposits in Russian hands. If it passes, major gold mining operations will have to be majority Russian owned.

Russia has the second-largest gold reserves in the world, behind South Africa, but is only the sixth-largest producer, and its output has fallen in the past three years.

Other oligarchs with gold assets include Vladimir Potanin and Mikhail Prokhorov, who control Russia's largest producer OAO Polyus Gold; Suleiman Kerimov, who owns OAO Polymetal, Russia's third-largest producer; and Mikhail Fridman, an oil and banking magnate who set up a gold mining arm this year.

Oleg Deripaska, whose Basic Element has invested in everything from aluminum to auto parts (through a stake in Magna International Inc.), owns gold companies in Mongolia. In a recent interview with The Globe and Mail, he hinted he would like to invest in more gold projects, perhaps with the help of a Canadian company.

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