Viktor Vekselberg, the Russian oligarch, expanded his business interests outside his home country on Tuesday by becoming the biggest shareholder in Switzerland’s Sulzer engineering group.
The move, estimated to have cost up to SFr1bn ($829m), will give Mr Vekselberg more than 31 per cent of Sulzer, a famous industrial name now focused on specialised pumps used in the energy and chemicals industries.
The arrival of Mr Vekselberg’s Renova Group could help Sulzer expand into Russia’s fast growing infrastructure sector. Mr Vekselberg, best known for interests in Rusal aluminium and the TNK-BP energy joint venture, has said he wants to focus on activities potentially useful to his country.
Swiss analysts said Tuesday they believed the move could be followed by an increase of Mr Vekselberg’s almost 14 per cent stake in OC Oerlikon, another Swiss technology group. Both the Sulzer and Oerlikon holdings stem from Mr Vekselberg’s association with Victory, the investment vehicle of Ronny Pecik and Georg Stumpf, the two Austrian corporate raiders who built stakes in Swiss industry over the past two years. The Sulzer shares were initially bought last April by an investment vehicle owned jointly by Mr Vekselberg and the Austrians. Separately, Deutsche Bank, which has worked closely with the Austrians, owns 3.7 per cent of Sulzer via shares and a further 21 per cent in call options.
Recent market turmoil has prompted speculation the Austrians may need to dispose of assets to meet margin calls. “We don’t comment on our reasons [for the Sulzer sale]”, said a Victory official. “The position of Victory in OC Oerlikon isn’t at all in danger,” he added.