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NINETY EIGHT REGENCY

GAZ boss Deripaska meets with GM, Magna CEOs

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GAZ boss Deripaska meets with GM, Magna CEOs

OCTOBER 31, 2009 06:01 CET

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russian tycoon Oleg Deripaska visited the United States twice this year, his spokesman said, but declined to say if he solved a visa dispute with the United States which had long irked top Russian officials.

During one of those visits he met with General Motors Co. CEO Fritz Henderson and Magna international Inc. co-CEO Siegfried Wolf.

Deripaska owns Russia's second-largest automaker, GAZ, which is seeking a role as an industrial partner in Opel. This is likely to happen if GM completes a sale of the German automaker to Canadian auto parts supplier Magna International Inc. and its Russia partner, state-controlled lender Sberbank.

The U.S. visits by Deripaska, who has repeatedly denied media reports that he had acquired a major stake in GM, come amid a thaw in Russia-U.S. political ties.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that Deripaska met U.S. bankers during the trip ahead of a planned share sale of his firm RUSAL, the world's top aluminium firm.

The spokesman for Deripaska said the magnate, once Russia's richest man and now the most indebted oligarch, went to the United States on business trips.

'No restrictions'

"Mr. Deripaska did visit the United States twice this year for business meetings. Mr. Deripaska has no travel restrictions to any country including the U.S.," he said.

He declined to comment on a report in The Wall Street Journal that Deripaska's U.S. trips came under a secret arrangement with U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, when he was allowed to meet U.S. businessmen but also met FBI investigators.

U.S. officials have not explained why Deripaska had his visa revoked in 2007 and declined to comment on media reports the FBI was probing Deripaska's business interest as part of investigations into money laundering and organized crime.

Deripaska has not faced any charges. He has denied any wrongdoing and blamed unnamed business rivals for orchestrating a campaign against him in the United States.

The U.S embassy in Moscow declined to comment and directed inquiries to U.S. State Department, which was not immediately available for comments.

Billionaire loses big

Deripaska, whose fortune had been estimated at over $30 billion before the financial crisis wiped out most of this wealth, has said he would never do business in the United States and even had powerful Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin calling on Washington to explain its refusal to grant the visa.

The visa was revoked at a time when Russia-U.S. political relations were at a low ebb, complicating the task of resolving Deripaska's visa issues.

Deripaska built much of his empire during Russia's "aluminium wars" of the 1990s when he won control of some of the country's biggest smelters.

This year, Moscow and Washington said they aim to reset political ties and U.S. President Barack Obama visited Moscow in July when he met Putin and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Deripaska is seeking to float the shares of Rusal in an initial public offering this or next year, and The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday he met top executives of Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs during his U.S. trips.

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