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Russia's Sistema still in talks over Argos Group

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Feb 22 (Reuters) - Russian conglomerate Sistema is still in talks over an acquisition of Argos Group after it offered to buy the oil trading group last October, Sistema's billionaire owner Vladimir Yevtushenkov said on Friday.

The Russian oil-to-telecoms group has signed a non-binding agreement to buy Argos but negotiations over the price are continuing, Yevtushenkov said.

"The companies are discussing the valuation of outstanding issues of between 100 million and 150 million euros," a Sistema spokesman told Reuters, declining to disclose a possible Argos valuation.

Yevtushenkov had earlier said a valuation was being finalised at between 100 million and 150 million euros.

Yevtushenkov told reporters that Sistema was still in talks about the acquisition of Argos, adding that Sistema was able to fund the deal from its own resources.

Sistema, whose assets include Russia's top mobile phone operator MTS, mid-sized oil producer Bashneft and companies in high-tech, retail and healthcare sectors, has been trying to establish its oil trading in Europe.

Argos Group is the largest independent group in the western European downstream oil market. Its business spans storage, distribution, bunkering and transport services and it trades in mineral oils and biofuels.

A spokesman for Argos, which has an annual turnover of $14 billion, declined to reveal further financial details.

Sistema is keen to acquire Argos Group to secure a large chunk of the trading market in Europe for Bashneft, which produces around 300,000 barrels of crude per day.

Argos Group operates in Belgium, Germany, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, France and Switzerland. Outside Europe, the company is active in Brazil, Singapore and China.

Sistema has said it will provide the Argos Group with an opportunity to expand its business, strengthen its market position in Western Europe and establish strong relations with Russian suppliers of hydrocarbons.

($1 = 0.7563 euros)

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