REFILE-Sanctions on Gunvor's Russian co-founder put oil traders on guard

Пятница, 21 марта 2014 5:08 MSK

(Refiles to fix typo in headline)

By Joshua Schneyer and Edward McAllister

NEW YORK, March 20 (Reuters) - Minutes after the U.S. government said Thursday it would punish the Russian co-owner of the world's No.4 private oil trading firm Gunvor SA with crippling sanctions, traders and bankers active in global oil markets began asking urgent questions.

Could the sanctions, which prohibit U.S. banks, individuals and companies from doing business with Russian billionaire Gennady Timchenko or firms he controls, possibly freeze the Geneva-based trading empire that Timchenko co-founded out of global commodity markets? Skittish counterparties and financiers scrambled for details, fearing they could be left exposed.

By the evening, initial concerns dissipated: in a surprise twist, Gunvor said Timchenko had sold all of his 44 percent stake in the firm to Swedish business partner and Gunvor co-founder Torbjorn Tornqvist a day earlier, easing concerns that the firm could be blacklisted.

Gunvor said the measure was taken "to ensure with certainty the continued operations" of its activities.

Timchenko, 61, was listed by Forbes as the 61st richest person in the world this month, with an estimated fortune of $15.3 billion, but Gunvor is hardly a household name.

Relative to its rivals like Vitol and Glencore, it has a minimal U.S. presence. The firm doesn't operate a trading floor in the United States and sends only modest volumes of oil here, although it does hold a stake in a Montana coal mine.

Even so, the fact that such a major player in world energy markets has been dragged into a growing political standoff over Ukraine is adding to market tension, with risks both for oil prices, if Russia were to retaliate by cutting exports, and trading relationships, if Western sanctions begin to target major suppliers.   Продолжение...