Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov has resigned as general director and president of OAO Norilsk Nickel, the company said Thursday, in an earlier-than-expected move that could foreshadow quickening efforts by the Kremlin to take over the mining giant.
Prokhorov's resignation comes amid the reorganization of the holdings and structure of Norilsk Nickel the world's largest nickel miner and its parent company, ZAO Interros Holdings.
Interros announced in January that its chief, Vladimir Potanin, would buy out Prokhorov's stake in Norilsk Nickel and that the two billionaires would remain joint owners of Interros' other assets, which includes OAO Polyus Gold one of the world's largest gold producers.
Interros said Prokhorov would manage his stakes in those companies through a separate investment company, step aside as an Interros shareholder and resign as Norilsk's chief executive by year's end.
In a statement Thursday, however, Prokhorov said he was resigning earlier than expected because "it became clear that to hold the executive responsibilities in Norilsk Nickel and simultaneously form the new business' planned configuration ... was impossible."
Denis Morozov, head of Norilsk's corporate and legal affairs department, was nominated to take over as general director.
Some analysts have speculated that the shuffle at Interros and Norilsk Nickel could pave the way for a Kremlin takeover of its mineral assets part of the government efforts to assert authority over Russia's vast and lucrative mineral and hydrocarbon resources. Norilsk also mines copper, zinc, paladium and platinum.
In comments to reporters, meanwhile, Prokhorov warned against any efforts by the state to take over the company.
"I think it wouldn't be right for the state to take Norilsk Nickel," Prokhorov was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying. "The state is not an effective manager."
Prokhorov's comments on a possible state takeover of Norilsk appear to contradict the view of Potanin, who said in a February interview with the Russian edition of Newsweek magazine: "If that happens, I won't take it as a personal tragedy, but as a change in the (business) climate."
Prokhorov gained notoriety earlier this year when French prosecutors detained him briefly on suspicion of being involved in a prostitution ring working out of a luxury Alps ski resort. He was released without charge, reports AP.
Prokhorov and Potanin are among Russia's wealthiest men, appearing on Forbes' listing of billionaires this year in an estimated net worth of US$13.5 billion (EUR10.2 billion) nearly double what they were estimated to be worth last year.
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