In a setback for its new chief executive, Russia's natural gas monopoly Gazprom OAO appears to have lost the battle to regain control over a Siberian gas field. .Gazprom's board voted last month to buy back control of Zapsibgazprom, a gas producer that owned a license to the Yuzhno-Russkoye gas field in Siberia.
In a setback for its new chief executive, Russia's natural gas monopoly Gazprom OAO appears to have lost the battle to regain control over a Siberian gas field. .Gazprom's board voted last month to buy back control of Zapsibgazprom, a gas producer that owned a license to the Yuzhno-Russkoye gas field in Siberia. .Gazprom lost control of the company a year ago in a series of transactions that minority shareholders say were designed to benefit members of the previous management team. .A report in the newspaper Vedomosti on Tuesday said the managers of Zapsibgazprom had secretly sold off the company's main asset, the license to the Yuzhno-Russkoye field, without informing Gazprom. .That same day, the deputy general director of Zapsibgazprom, Nikolai Konyev, confirmed that the company's stake in the unit that held the license to the gas field had fallen to 11 percent from 100 percent in 1998. Zapsibgazprom, based in the Siberian city of Tyumen, owns the rest of the stake only indirectly, through subsidiary companies, Mr. Konyev said. He refused to identify the companies or say when the stake had been reduced. .Minority shareholders in Gazprom are watching the company's new chief executive, Alexei Miller, for signs that he will halt what President Vladimir Putin has called an outflow of "enormous sums" from Gazprom. Shareholders suspect the previous management of diverting assets to companies linked to themselves. Mr. Putin put Mr. Miller in charge of Gazprom in May. .In particular, a Netherlands Antilles-registered company called Itera has grown into one of Russia's largest producers of gas through stakes in fields formerly controlled by Gazprom, raising suspicions among shareholders that it is linked to management. .Analysts said the loss of control indicated the company's new management would not take a tough stance on returning Gazprom's missing assets. .Restoring control over Zapsibgazprom is now "fairly meaningless for Gazprom shareholders," wrote the Moscow-based investment bank United Financial Group in a report. Attempts to regain assets will be "purely symbolic in response to political pressures," it said, adding, "This formalistic approach by management reduces the chances of any assets being restored." .Itera is among the gas field's new shareholders, according to the Vedomosti report. Russia's Federal Securities Commission confirmed that one of its divisions had received a filing from the unit that owned the field, detailing ownership. An Itera spokesman said Tuesday that two of the new shareholders belonged to a conglomerate in which Itera owned a stake of less than 51 percent. .Even at a meeting last month, shareholders were uncertain what entity actually owned the field. .Speaking with investors after a meeting with management, Boris Fyodorov, a former deputy prime minister and a board member representing minority shareholders, said he had asked what size stake Zapsibgazprom had in the unit that held the license. "The answer was hilarious," he said. "'We don't know.'"