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By John Helmer in Moscow

The federal Ministry of Finance has moved the planned privatization for the state shipping company Sovcomflot into next year; increased the bloc of shares to be offered from 20% previously announced to 25%; and put a discount on the target value for the sell-off.

A meeting of ministers chaired by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin last week agreed in principle to a list of state assets to be sold over the next three years, starting in 2011. The inclusion of Sovcomflot on this list, and its removal from statutory restrictions covering strategic state companies, suggest that the privatization of Sovcomflot, proposed for this year by government ministers, will not start until next year at the earliest, according to leaks from the government session.

This avoids bringing the company’s shares to market at the same time the UK High Court rules on the half-billion dollar lawsuit by Sovcomflot and chief executive Sergei Frank against the former CEO Dmitry Skarga and former charter partner, Yury Nikitin. The trial commenced in October of last year, and despite the press blackout in the Russian media, the transcripts of the proceedings have provided the most comprehensive dossier ever disclosed on how Russian officials manage and manipulate the shipping sector.

High Court Justice Andrew Smith is expected to bring down his ruling after the court returns from its summer recess.

The Russian Finance Ministry is not saying what valuation it places on Sovcomflot for the sell-off. However, a report by Unicredit Securities in Moscow, issued yesterday, suggests the marketable value of Sovcomflot is between $2.7 billion and $3 billion. This is substantially lower than the $6.1 billion asset valuation the company has published in its financial report for last year. Liabilities reported there amount to $2.8 billion

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