01/22/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Russian Oligarch Oleg Deripaska Struggles To Save Metals Empire

MOSCOW -- Just before midnight earlier this month, one of Russia's richest businessmen was rushing among the dark-paneled meeting rooms outside his office, cordless phone in hand. Oleg Deripaska was scrambling to save aluminum giant UC Rusal and the rest of his industrial empire from its creditors, by selling off big chunks.

Mr. Deripaska, in his first interview since the global credit crunch took hold in Russia this fall, said he is peddling stakes in just about everything he owns to pay off his crushing debts. People close to Rusal, the crown jewel, say talks include Chinese as well as Western investors, who would take equity stakes in return for helping to pay down Rusal's $14 billion debt.

"Naturally the situation is difficult. If it were easy, we wouldn't have kept you waiting until midnight," the 40-year-old billionaire, his eyes tinged red with fatigue, told a visiting reporter. "We're confident there's always a reasonable solution. The question is how big the losses are." He acknowledged they would be "in the billions."

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