U.S. investor: no sale planned

  • 2003-09-25
  • Baltic Business News
TALLINN - The top official from Baltic Rail Services, which owns 66 percent of Estonian Railways, the country's main freight carrier, denied rumors last week that the company was looking to sell its holding in Estonian Railways to Russian interests.
Recent press reports have named Severstal-Trans, which owns two large oil freight operators, BaltTrans-Service and Transoil, as a possible buyer of the Baltic Rail Services stake.
Transoil carries most of the oil and oil products that are delivered by rail from Russia to the port of Muuga.
"Rumors on a possible sale are untrue," Edward A. Burkhardt, chairman of the supervisory board of Baltic Rail Services, told Eesti Päevaleht.
Still, several informed sources have confirmed that Russian businessmen are interested in acquiring a holding in Estonian Railways.
There has been growing speculation in recent weeks that the Russian government is dissatisfied with the fact that Estonia's cargo rail lines are in the hands of U.S. investors and that pressure will be applied to force foreign investors' to sell part of their assets to a Russian investor – much the same way as Russia has been pressuring the Latvian oil terminal in Ventspils by ceasing to deliver crude via pipeline.
As evidence, commentators have cited the 10 percent hike in tariffs at the end of August for Russian exporters making deliveries by rail to Estonia, a decision made by Russia's rail ministry.
Also, BaltTransService officials, who were in Estonia last week, reportedly expressed interest in acquiring 15 Russian-made locomotives that are still owned but not used by Estonian Railways.
Burkhardt confirmed the Russians' interest in the locomotives.
"There are several interested buyers for the Soviet-made locomotives owned by Estonian Railways, and the company is choosing a partner as we speak," he said.
As part of its overhaul of Estonian Railways, Baltic Rail Services has been replacing its fleet of Soviet-made locomotive with 74 used U.S.-made locomotives.
It has been speculated that the billionaire Burkhardt could sell the same locomotives on the lucrative Russian market, a deal with enormous potential now that the U.S. engines have undergone and passed all the safety tests in Estonia.