Metalloinvest may raise Norilsk stake via Udokan swap

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - The owners of Norilsk Nickel are in talks to acquire Metalloinvest's Udokan copper deposit in exchange for an increased stake in the Russian nickel and palladium mining giant, two sources familiar with the matter said on Thursday.

Norilsk's largest shareholders Interros and RUSAL are in talks with Metalloinvest, controlled by Russia's richest man Alisher Usmanov, to buy the undeveloped Udokan deposit in exchange for Norilsk stock.

Metalloinvest currently owns a 4 percent stake in Norilsk. The volume of additional stake which it may get in Norilsk depends on the valuation of Udokan now, a source said.

"Udokan is a large deposit and Norilsk has experience in copper deposits, while Usmanov would like to have Norilsk shares," a source said. Another source confirmed the negotiations.

Metalloinvest and Norilsk declined to comment.

Under a recent peace deal to settle a long-lasting shareholder conflict between Interros owner Vladimir Potanin and RUSAL's Oleg Deripaska, Roman Abramovich will buy a 5.86 percent stake for $1.5 billion (966.8 million pounds) and be given voting control over about 20 percent.

Abramovich's investment vehicle Millhouse is also in talks, which started in December, the Kommersant daily said on Thursday, citing sources. Morgan Stanley (Xetra: 885836 - news) was hired to evaluate Udokan, one of the biggest copper deposits in the world, it added.

Metalloinvest won a tender to develop Udokan in 2008, shortly before the global financial crisis, agreeing to pay 15 billion roubles ($499 million). But given lower commodity prices, the cost of developing the project may be prohibitive.

(Reporting by Polina Devitt and Katya Golubkova; Editing by Douglas Busvine)