RBC, Citi Among Blavatnik Casualties

The international business empire of Russian-American billionaire Len Blavatnik is facing its hardest test, with last week's collapse of his U.S. company LyondellBasell, the world's No. 3 petrochemical maker.

Blavatnik, who had been until recently negotiating to buy the Maariv publishing company from the Nimrodi family, said he hoped LyondellBasell creditors, the Royal Bank of Scotland and Citi, would get their money back.

The company took on billions of dollars in debt a year ago, when Blavatnik led a $12.7 billion leveraged buyout of Lyondell by Basell of the Netherlands. To finance the acquisition, Lyondell issued $20.5 billion worth of bonds. Citi had been the one that organized financing for the merger, together with UBS, Goldman Sachs and ABN Amro.

Its back broken by the mountain of money owed, LyondellBasell filed for bankruptcy protection Tuesday.

RBC had been one of its biggest creditors, at $3.5 billion, Bloomberg reported yesterday. Citi had been another, and stands to lose $1.4 billion from LyondellBasell's implosion.

Blavatnik isn't folding: He also has holdings in chemicals and metals companies in Russia and in former Soviet states, as well as coal mines in Kazakhstan. He also owns extensive real estate assets in Britain, Argentina and the United States, through his company Access Industries.

Blavatnik's pursuit of Maariv had been serious enough to reach the due diligence stage back in August last year. He also made an offer to buy the financially rickety tabloid, which has been losing money for years.

Another billionaire targeting Maariv has been Sheldon Adelson, best known for his casino group Las Vegas Sands. Adelson was reportedly also negotiating to buy the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team, but his spokesman denies it. For more on that, see Page 10.