By Pádraig Hoare
Over 650 jobs at Aughinish Alumina in Limerick appear to be more secure after the US indicated it was close to a deal with the firm’s owner Rusal to end sanctions on the metals giant.
The US Treasury Department has indicated it may allow Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska to keep his ownership of En+ Group, the majority owner of Rusal, in the mid-40% range under a deal that would spare the firm from sanctions, sources suggested.
While Treasury has not provided a specific target for Deripaska’s holding, it had generally signalled his stake would need to be meaningfully below 50%, reports said.
Mr Deripaska owns about 66% of the company, according to an En+ annual report.
The jobs in Limerick have been under a cloud as US sanctions imposed on Rusal played havoc with metal markets over the past two months.
Some 450 staff and more than 200 agency workers are employed at the plant, which has been described as one of Limerick’s best employers.
Mr Deripaska was targeted because of his purported close ties to the Kremlin. He has repeatedly called the sanctions “groundless” but has indicated he would divest his interests in businesses like Rusal.
The threat of sanctions has also affected other large companies.
Mining giant Rio Tinto has plants in France and Iceland that use the Irish alumina, and Liberty House Group’s Scottish smelter also depends on the site.
Mr Deripaska is among a group of Russian tycoons and companies with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin who were hit with US sanctions on April 6.
The sanctions initially disrupted the global supply chain for aluminium and sent prices soaring because the targets included Rusal, Russia’s largest producer of the metal.
En+ announced Mr Deripaska was stepping down from the boards of En+ and Rusal, and En+ is expected to present a new board to Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control by the end of June, and apply to be removed from the sanctions list in July.
Business Minister Heather Humphreys raised Aughinish with US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross in Washington earlier this month.
Additional reporting Bloomberg