(Changes dateline to ROME)
By Antonella Cinelli and Giuseppe Fonte
ROME, March 20 Italy has given its final
blessing to a 5.2 billion euro loan made in January by bank
Intesa SanPaolo to finance the privatisation of a stake in
Russia's biggest oil company, after checking to ensure the deal
did not breach sanctions.
Russia sold a 19.5 percent stake in Rosneft in
December for 10.5 billion euros, in one of the biggest transfers
of Russian state assets into private hands since the 1990s.
The stake was bought by a consortium made up of Qatar and
the oil trading company Glencore, which together provided 2.8
billion euros. The consortium borrowed funds from Intesa,
Italy's biggest retail bank, to make up most of the rest of the
The deal was subject to regulatory scrutiny in Italy because
of the size of Intesa's loan and the potential for entanglement
in EU sanctions on Russia. Rosneft itself, its boss Igor Sechin
and Russia's main state banks are all subject to sanctions
imposed after Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in
However, Italy's Financial Security Committee (FSC), a
government body which includes officials from the finance,
foreign and justice ministries, the central bank, finance police
and anti-mafia prosecutors, found no sanctions violations.
The FSC, which gave preliminary blessing to the deal in
January, concluded its inquiry in early March, officials said.
"At the end of all checks, we didn't find any kind of
obstacle... The operation was carried out in compliance with all
rules," said a spokesman for the FSC.
Glencore, Rosneft and the Qatari investment fund QIA
declined to comment. Intesa's spokesman said: "No issues were
raised by competent authorities."
According to four Italian government and banking sources,
Intesa first agreed to lend the money to Glencore and Qatar on
Dec. 6 and approached the FSC for approval, but this was held up
until the new year because the new government of Prime Minister
Paolo Gentiloni was sworn in only on Dec. 12.
Since the Russian government wanted to close the deal before
the end of 2016, Russian state lender VTB provided a bridge loan
while the buyers waited for the money from Intesa.
VTB is subject to sanctions, and the sources said the FSC
investigated the Russian bank's role, but concluded that the
bridge loan arrangement did not make the transaction illegal.
VTB declined to comment.
Reuters reported in January that certain details of the deal
could not be determined from public records, including the
source of 2.2 billion euros in funding and the beneficial owners
of a Cayman Islands company that is part of the consortium's
ownership structure. Rosneft says the deal was transparent and
Glencore and Qatar are the only owners of the stake.
(Additional reporting by Stephen Jewkes; Writing by Dmitry
Zhdannikov; Editing by Peter Graff)