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Peter Hambro mounts robust defence as sharks circle Petropavlovsk

Major investors in Petropavlovsk are agitating for significant boardroom changes, but Peter Hambro is fighting back
Peter Hambro mounts robust defence as sharks circle Petropavlovsk
Peter Hambro has been in the gold industry for more than 30 years

“One thing I’m absolutely adamant about is looking after all our shareholders,” says Peter Hambro, the chairman of Petropavlovsk PLC (LON:POG).

He speaks as major shareholders Sothic, M&G and Renova have publicly voiced their opposition to his reappointment as a director at Petropavlovsk, and nixed the company’s other suggested non-executive appointments.

The issue will be decided at an AGM next month, but between them the dissident shareholder groups account for more than 30% of the shares so the challenge is significant. M&G and Sothic, as significant institutional investors, are acting together and have suggested their own board appointees.

But Renova, as the vehicle of Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, appears to be acting independently and has also nominated two candidates for the non-exec roles, one of whom is Bruce Buck, the chairman of Chelsea Football Club.

Hambro though, is bullish in his own defence. “Renova and Sothic and M&G are experts at mining the markets,” he says.

“But we mine the mines. Petropavlovsk is a success story. We’ve paid back the banks in full and they have restructured our loans.” He highlights that the company returned to profits last year for the first time since 2011, after significant losses in previous years, and that gold production in the first quarter of this year was “extremely good.”

What’s more, Petropavlovsk is now poised for a major step-change in terms of growth. New technologies are being deployed to extract gold from ore that was previously very hard to work. In conjunction with a move underground, that looks set to boost production.

“No wonder the sharks are circling,” says Hambro, “why else would they be doing this?”

The argument is that Renova and the others are attempting to gain control of the company and its Russian assets by the back door, by seizing control of the board, and without actually paying a proper premium for  control.

Petropavlovsk is arguably the most significant mid-tier gold mining company listed in London, with production hitting just over 400,000 ounces last year.

But although Hambro is opposed to the current moves from Renova, Sothic and M&G, he is not by any means averse to change.

In any event, he says he plans to retire in 2020 when all the current plans are due to be completed.

Before then though, if the dissident shareholders choose instead to put hard cash on the table, that would be another matter.

“I wouldn’t stand in the way of a good bid,” he says. “I’m a reasonably big shareholder myself.”

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