Threat to jobs could be easing at Limerick's Aughinish Alumina as US softens stance

Maria Flannery

Reporter:

Maria Flannery

Email:

maria.flannery@limerickleader.ie

Aughinish Alumina, which is owned by embattled Russian company UC Rusal

Aughinish Alumina, which is owned by embattled Russian company UC Rusal

THE THREAT to up to 1,000 jobs in Limerick has eased somewhat with an announcement that the US may consider dropping severe sanctions on a local plant.

Aughinish Alumina, which is owned by embattled Russian company UC Rusal, has been under threat since April, when the US Treasury Department announced harsh sanctions against its controlling owner Oleg Deripaska, along with a handful of other Russian oligarchs.

The company had been tasked with jumping through a number of hoops before the October 23 deadline, most notably the reorganisation of the ownership to ensure that Mr Deripaska reduced his majority share. That process is underway.

But now, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said that the department would be open to removing Rusal from the list of companies which were due to be hit by the sanctions.

According to a report in Reuters, Mr Mnuchin added that the objective of the punitive sanctions was “not to put Rusal out of business”.

“If we can find an acceptable solution, that is our objective,” said Mr Mnuchin.

And since his comments, shares in the company rose 15 percent on the Hong Kong stock exchange.

The prospect of a softer approach by the US is good news for Askeaton’s Aughinish Alumina, which found itself at the centre of the controversy as the largest alumina refinery in Europe.

There are 450 people employed on site, and another 500 working locally within its orbit, as contractors, suppliers and spin-off industry.

It is one of the biggest employers in County Limerick.

The sanctions list, announced in April, was a US attempt to punish Russia for “malign activity around the globe”, including the country’s activities in Crimea and Syria, its alleged involvement in a poisoning in the UK, and suspicions surrounding US election meddling.

Billionaire Russian business people were specifically targeted because they were seen to have ‘benefited’ from the regime.

And Aughinish owner Mr Deripaska is said to have close ties to the Russian president.

He has his shares in UC Rusal through his holding company EN+. He has made moves in the last two months to divest his interests in the company, to save it from the sanctions.

And a series of other steps have been taken within the company. A new board of independent directors was elected last month.