Reliance to conclude Aramco deal this year; Aramco rep on co board

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Mumbai, Jun 24 (PTI) Saudi Aramco chairman and head of the Kingdom's cash-rich wealth fund PIF Yasir Othman Al-Rumayyan will join the board of Reliance Industries Ltd as a precursor to a USD 15 billion deal that is now expected to conclude this year.

RIL chairman and Asia's richest man Mukesh Ambani told shareholders that a deal to sell a 20 per cent stake in the company's oil-to-chemical unit to Saudi Aramco was expected to conclude this year.

Harvard educated Al-Rumayyan, 51, will replace Yogendra P Trivedi, 92, who has expressed a desire to retire, Ambani said.

'Despite several challenges due to COVID-19, we have made substantial progress in the past in our discussions (with Saudi Aramco),' he said. 'I expect our partnership to be formalised in an expeditious manner during this year.' RIL had inked an initial pact to sell a fifth of the unit that houses its oil refineries, petrochemical plants and fuel retailing business in August 2019, but the outbreak of global pandemic delayed the deal.

Ambani said RIL is looking forward to 'welcoming Saudi Aramco as a strategic partner in our O2C business'.

In 2019, he had announced a USD 75 billion valuation for the O2C business. On Thursday, he did not put any value.

He, however, announced the appointment of Al-Rumayyan, Chairman of Saudi Aramco and the Governor of the Public Investment Fund (PIF), as an independent director on the RIL board.

Besides bringing his vast financial experience, the induction of Al-Rumayyan, who also sits on the board of SoftBank Group Corp and Uber Technologies, will bring down the average age of the board of directors of Reliance.

Over the past years, the oil-to-telecom conglomerate has segregated businesses into separate verticals - Jio Platforms houses the company's digital and telecom unit, retail is a separate unit, and oil refining and petrochemical segments have been carved into the O2C vertical to attract strategic partnerships.

In the last year, PIF has invested billions of dollars in RIL ventures.

In June last year, PIF bought a 2.32 per cent stake in RIL's digital unit Jio Platforms for Rs 11,367 crore. Five months later, it picked up a 2.04 per cent stake in RIL's retail venture for Rs Rs 9,555 crore. PIF has also invested Rs 3,779 crore in an infrastructure investment trust (InvIT), Digital Fibre Infrastructure Trust (DFIT) that holds RIL's fibre-optic assets.

'I am sure that we will immensely benefit from his rich experience of running one of the world's largest companies, and also one of the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world,' Ambani said. 'His joining our board is also the beginning of the internationalisation of Reliance. You will hear more about our international plans in the times to come.' An accounting graduate from King Faisal University, Saudi Arabia who went on to do a general management programme at Harvard Business School, Al-Rumayyan is the head of PIF since May 2019. He was appointed chairman of the board of Saudi Aramco in September 2019.

Al-Rumayyan's experience encompasses over 25 years working in some of Saudi Arabia's key financial institutions.

He began his career at the Saudi Hollandi Bank, where he occupied key positions in various departments. He is a member of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs, and also serves as an advisor to the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers, the Chairman of the Decision Support Center, and a board member of the Saudi Industrial Development Fund.

With a stake, Aramco would not just have a share in one of the world's best refineries and the largest integrated petrochemical complex, but also access to one of the fastest-growing markets -- a ready-made market for 5 lakh barrels per day of its Arabian crude and a potentially bigger downstream role in future.

While COVID-19 delayed the deal, talks have revived this year and the two are reportedly discussing a cash and share deal - Aramco paying for the stake with its shares initially and then staggered cash payments over several years.

Besides refineries and petrochemical plants, the O2C business also comprises a 51 per cent stake in the fuel retailing business. It, however, does not include the upstream oil and gas producing assets such as the flagging KG-D6 block in the Bay of Bengal.

RIL board has Ambani and his wife Nita, cousins Hital and Nikhil Meswani. Business heads PMS Prasad and PK Kapil too are on the board.

Independent directors include eminent scientist Raghunath A Mashelkar, 78; Adil Zainulbhai, 67; Dipak C Jain, 64; former finance secretary Raminder Singh Gujral, 68; Shumeet Banerji, 59; former SBI chairperson Arundhati Bhattacharya, 63; and former CVC K V Chowdary, 66. PTI ANZ BAL

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