United Co. Rusal (486) may have to replace Chairman Barry Cheung in August, five months after he took over the post at the world’s largest aluminum producer, according to four people with knowledge of the situation.
Cheung, head of the Hong Kong Mercantile Exchange, may quit the Rusal job to devote more time to his roles in the Chinese city, two of the people said, asking not to be identified because the information isn’t public. Cheung is also chairman of the city’s Urban Renewal Authority and headed Leung Chun-ying’s successful campaign for election as Hong Kong chief executive.
Shareholder Victor Vekselberg quit as board chairman in March during a dispute with billionaire Chief Executive Officer Oleg Deripaska to have Rusal sell its 25 percent of Russia’s biggest mining company, OAO GMK Norilsk Nickel, allowing the aluminum producer to cut debt and pay dividends. Cheung was put forward to succeed him by Deripaska’s En+ Group holding company.
Matthias Warnig, a former East German Stasi agent who has known Russian President Vladimir Putin since at least 1991, may be invited to head the board, two of the people said. Warnig joined Rusal’s board last month on a nomination from En+ Group. He is managing director of the OAO Gazprom-led Nord Stream AG gas pipeline to Germany, was elected board chairman of oil pipeline operator OAO Transneft last year and is a director on state-run OAO Rosneft’s board.
Cheung said he won’t comment on “rumor and gossip.” Vera Kurochkina, Rusal’s spokeswoman, declined to comment on speculation. Warnig couldn’t be reached for comment.
Vekselberg’s Sual Partners, through which he and fellow billionaire Len Blavatnik control about 15.8 percent of Rusal, voted against Cheung’s appointment, calling the decision “hasty and not optimal” in a statement.
En+ Group bought a 10 percent stake in the Hong Kong Mercantile Exchange in 2010.
“Rusal’s chairman position is more of a prestigious post, than one which influences the company’s day-to-day management,” Kirill Chuyko, an analyst at UBS AG in Moscow, said by phone. Minority investors don’t care who takes this post while the major shareholders may consider it an important issue during their dispute, Chuyko said.
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