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Press review: Sberbank's loss on Ukrainian subsidiary sale and Central bank under fire

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, March 29
Ukrainian workers clean graffiti and dismantle the wall cordoning off the entrance to the office of Ukraine subsidiary of Sberbank in downtown Kiev EPA/SERGEY DOLZHENKO
Ukrainian workers clean graffiti and dismantle the wall cordoning off the entrance to the office of Ukraine subsidiary of Sberbank in downtown Kiev

Media: Sberbank 'to lose money' on $130 mln Ukrainian subsidiary sale

The sale of the Ukrainian subsidiary of Russia’s biggest lender to a duo of investors continues to top today’s headlines in the Russian press. Kommersant writes citing sources that the deal of a 45% stake to Grigory Guselnikov through Latvia’s Norvik Banka and a 55% stake to Said Gutseriyev, is estimated at around $130 mln, which is slightly lower than the asset’s capital ($144 mln according to international financials for January-September 2016). The parties have been hashing over the sale since the end of 2016, one of the sources told the newspaper. "Initially, a much higher price tag had been discussed, though the sanctions levied by the Ukrainian president against Russian banks in mid-March substantially changed the situation," he said. Another factor that impacted the deal’s price was "the moves undertaken by Ukrainian extremists following Sberbank’s announcement about providing services to citizens holding LPR and DPR passports. Their acts were very aggressive, as they blocked offices and stirred up panic surrounding the bank," the source said, adding that the seller was forced to make concessions on the price in order to quickly close the deal.

Currently, the transaction is subject to approval by the National Bank of Ukraine (NBU). A source in the Ukrainian regulator told Kommersant that official notification or related papers have not yet been received from the potential buyers. Experts interviewed by RBC business daily do not expect the country’s officials to oppose the deal. However, the paper writes, this is not going to be an easy process. Also, the deal has to be approved by the Latvian National Bank. Sergey Ostrovsky, Ashurst’s partner in London, noted that European regulators may zone in on the deal due to its structure, since Sberbank is on the list of sectoral sanctions.

Whether sanctions will be removed from the asset is yet another open question. The fact that the bank together with the change of ownership it will take a new name - Norvik Banka - does not mean the sanctions will be automatically removed. A source in NBU told Kommersant that "the issue needs additional consideration." It may also need to file a request addressed to the president, since the Ukrainian subsidiary of Sberbank is on the list of his decree, the paper writes. Meanwhile, sanctions may not be a critical factor for the new owners, Kommersant says citing sources, since Safmar Group (who manages the assets of one of the potential buyers) holds a large-scale business in Ukraine and needs investments in the local currency to expand it. "The group has been actively purchasing logistics projects, including Ukrainian ones, over the past years," one of the sources said.


Izvestia: Despite ban in Russia, LinkedIn registers with Federal Tax Service

The US-based social business network LinkedIn banned by Russia’s telecom watchdog in mid-November 2016, is on the list of foreign firms that plan to pay 18% of VAT from online services to the Federal Tax Service, Izvestia writes citing the list it had obtained of online companies registered in the tax service. The list includes 128 companies, including Google, Amazon, Apple, Alibaba, Microsoft, Netflix, and GoDaddy. By registering in the Federal Tax Service, companies gives consent to pay quarterly taxes in Russia starting April 25.

A representative of Microsoft, the owner of the network, confirmed to Izvestia that the company "has registered in the Federal Tax Service’s system and will provide respective reports." A source in LinkedIn said that the network "will be available in the Russian language," adding that the company hopes it "will be able to restore its Russian service in the future." "We’re disappointed by (the watchdog’s) actions to block LinkedIn as it chokes off access to our services for Russian users. We assume that we observe all the corresponding laws. But despite the negotiations with the regulator, we have failed to reach an agreement that will help lift the restriction," the source said.

Russia’s telecom watchdog banned LinkedIn nationwide and it also instructed national telecommunications operators to block the world's largest professional network. The Moscow City Court earlier rejected an appeal filed by LinkedIn against the countrywide block Russia imposed on it for violating the law on personal data localization. Under the law, the personal data of Russian citizens should be processed and stored only in Russia.


Izvestia: Bulgarian socialists oppose anti-Russia sanctions

The Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) secured 27.2% of the votes at early parliamentary elections, taking second place to the Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) which clinched 32.5%. Socialist leader Kornelia Ninova told Izvestia daily that the leader may be facing difficulties in setting up the government. "Many political forces will have to accept a serious compromise in order to form a coalition with GERB, and not all will do it. Almost all parties held political actions against GERB during the pre-election campaign. This all opens up opportunities for BSP to set up the future government," the politician explained.

When asked how Bulgaria will structure relations with Russia in this case, Ninova said: "I still stand by the opinion that anti-Russia sanctions damage ties between Russia and Bulgaria, just as they harm relations between Russia and the European Union. That is why BSP insists on lifting the sanctions against Russia. This will help improve conditions for the Bulgarian people." However, she added that there needs to be some give-and-take, such as a gas price cut, which would be expected from Russia as well. "Moscow and Sofia have many areas of cooperation. The countries need to jointly develop energy projects and expand ties with small and mid-sized businesses," she stressed.

According to Ninova, “the Bulgarian economy is intertwined with the European Union, but views on migration policy and refugees differ.” "The majority of Bulgarian people support the European path, though the BSP party focuses on trade relations beyond the Union," she said, adding that it also wants to bolster ties between Moscow and Brussels. Also, the politician said, the party opposes attempts "to escalate tensions on the border of NATO member-states’ territories and Russia." "We are not against NATO, but we want closer relations with Russia," Ninova discerned.


Kommersant: Georgian minister says local reforms trump European integration

The European Union is not ready to accept Georgia a member-country in the near future given the region’s current uneasy political  climate. Vital issues for Tblisi are tackling terrorism, the Syrian conflict, and relations with Russia, Georgian Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration Viktor Dolidze said in an interview with Kommersant daily. The minister noted that reforms are crucial now for Georgia, meaning sectoral issues to develop infrastructure and agriculture. He stated that Tblisi launched education reform which is on track to becoming a major step forward for the country’s continued Europeanization, adding that those reforms help the country “shift from the post-Soviet space into the EU politically, economically and energy-wise.”

However, according to Dolidze, Georgia’s final goal is to become a full-fledged member of the European Union and NATO. "We’re making progress, that is why we were granted the right of visa-free travel. Hopefully, Ukraine will get this right in June or July, which will be a serious political step from the EU side," he added. According to the minister, some European states were skeptical on liberalizing visa travel regime, among them Germany, Italy, France and the Netherlands to a certain extent. The official noted that their skepticism was related not to Georgia but to Ukraine. However, we earned some trust due to fine work and preparations, where as they had to justify the confidence of the Georgian people. All this was a good background for a positive decision," he told Kommersant.

Dolidze added that the European integration would hopefully help improve relations with South Ossetia and Abkhazia. "The Moldavian experience demonstrated encouraging results as thousands of Moldavians living in Transnistria took Moldavian passports. Our situations are not identical but we also have to be more attractive for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which means that we have to support economic, trade and personal ties between people, and it would be great if they want to officially become citizens of Georgia encouraged by a visa-free regime with Europe," he said.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russia’s Central Bank comes under fire for favoritism

Russia’s banking sector players are increasingly concerned about the rising number of withdrawn licenses. They have opposed the policy by the Central Bank and virtually accused the financial regulator of favoritism regarding access to recovery procedures to certain credit organizations in a joint report published by the Association of Russian Banks. "Many decision are made behind the scenes, prompted by a small clique," Nezavisimaya Gazeta quotes the report.

On Tuesday, Central Bank Chief Elvira Nabiullina responded to the association’s call not to withdraw banking licenses, by saying it fundamentally contradicts the interests of bonafide players. Meanwhile, head of the Association Garegin Tosunyan emphasized that the viewpoint about there being an excess of lenders on the Russian market is wrong.

Experts interviewed by Nezavisimaya say that the opposing sides are unlikely to find common ground. "There was no discussion, but mutual claims. Tosunyan and Nabiullina will never hear each other out. Tosunyan is a banker himself who headed Tekhnobank in the difficult period of the 1990s and knows how risky it is to operate in our banks. In contrast, Nabiullina is an official who perceives banking activities from hearsay and based on abstract figures. She has no qualms when withdrawing licenses, and she will continue doing this with banks that cannot protect themselves since the courts cannot and are not willing to cancel the decisions of the Bank of Russia," Professor of the Russian President’s Academy of the National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA) Yuri Yudenkov told the newspaper.


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