Exclusive-Lukoil, U.S. private equity nearing deal on Sicilian refinery - sources

Italy works to keep Lukoil refinery going as sale talks drag on

By Francesca Landini, Julia Payne and Giuseppe Fonte

MILAN (Reuters) - Russia's Lukoil and U.S. private equity firm Crossbridge are close to a deal for the sale of the Russian group's refinery in Sicily, Italy, three sources with knowledge of the matter said on Thursday.

The agreement between Lukoil and Crossbridge, which is supported by Swiss commodity trader Vitol, could be worth just under 1.5 billion euros ($1.58 billion), two of the sources said, cautioning that final terms of the transaction could still change.

The Lukoil-owned site in Sicily refines a fifth of Italy's crude and directly employs about 1,000 people in an economically depressed area.

The refinery, which has relied on mainly Russian crude in recent months, is now unable to take its mainstay feedstock after a European Union embargo came into force on Monday.

Last week, Rome laid down a scheme to place the plant in the hands of trustees to protect jobs and domestic refinery capacity from the embargo.

The possibility that the refinery may end up under a trusteeship has accelerated negotiations between Lukoil and Crossbridge, one of the sources said.

According to a fourth source, the refinery's revenues are projected to more than triple this year, surpassing 10 billion euros ($10.55 billion) on the back of higher prices for diesel and gasoline.

Any agreement to sell the plant will be subject to government scrutiny under the so-called golden power regulation, which gives Rome the possibility to block the transaction should it harm jobs or strategic production in the country.

Crossbridge and Vitol declined to comment. Lukoil was not immediately available to comment. Italy's industry ministry did not reply to a request for comment.

($1 = 0.9480 euros)

(Additional reporting by Angelo Amante; Editing by Leslie Adler)