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ABN Amro slammed for $1 billion Sakhalin deal

ABN Amro has reportedly provided $1 billion to Gazprom to finance its purchase of a controlling share in the controversial oil and gas project Sakhalin II.

Sakhalin II is located on the island of Sakhalin, off the pacific coast of Russia. Environmental campaigners have long opposed its development, because it is sited in the only known breeding ground of the rare Western Grey whale. Onshore construction is also alleged to impact on the population of wild salmon that breed in the island's network of rivers.

Shell, which originally led the consortium constructing Sakhalin II, reached a deal which saw Gazprom acquire a 50% share in the project last December, under pressure from Russia's environment watchdog. According to reports in The Moscow Times, ABN Amro provided the gas giant with $1 billion of this money.

A group of NGOs has issued a statement criticising ABN Amro for financing this deal, noting that the bank was a founding signatory of the Equator Principles, which set environmental and social standards for project finance, as well as being short listed as a contender for the sustainable bank of the year award by the Financial Times and International Finance Corporation (IFC).

Johan Frijns, co-ordinator of Utrecht-based NGO BankTrack, said: "The Financial Times and IFC have their own reputations at stake here. ABN Amro's and Barclays' association with Sakhalin II will be a credibility drag on the whole lot of them."

In addition, Dmitry Lisitsyn, chairman of the Sakhalin Island-based Sakhalin Environment Watch, said that the deal has implications for Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland, both of which are involved in bids to acquire the Dutch bank. "All banks involved in the great game around ABN Amro want it both ways; but they can't claim to be environmental leaders while taking over the financing of one of the most ecologically and socially destructive oil and gas projects in the world," he said.

ABN Amro did not return requests for comment before press time.

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