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UPDATE 1-Trafigura raises stake in Italian refinery Saras to 12.5%

(Recasts headline and lead; adds Trafigura statement and context)

By Francesca Landini and Julia Payne

MILAN, May 12 (Reuters) -

Global commodities trader Trafigura has raised its stake in Italian refiner Saras to 12.46% from 5.23%, the companies said on Friday, strengthening Trafigura's foothold over Mediterranean oil flows.

The move comes a week after Russia's Lukoil concluded the sale of its large Sicilian refinery, ISAB, to an Israeli-backed company in turn supported by Trafigura for oil supplies.

Saras, controlled by the Moratti family, operates the 300,000-barrel-per-day Sarroch refinery in Sardinia, one of the biggest plants in the region.

"This reflects our view of the strategic value of this asset, which is one of Europe’s largest and most efficient oil refineries, and our position as a commercial supplier and offtaker from the operation," Trafigura said in a statement.

Geneva-based Trafigura first bought shares in Saras via Urion Holdings in 2020 when the refining sector was clobbered by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trafigura has only a small presence in refining operations, preferring more flexible long-term crude supply or fuel offtake agreements. It has an exclusive deal with Prax to supply Britain's Lindsey refinery and operates a small refinery via its subsidiary Puma Energy in Papua New Guinea.

Earlier this year, Trafigura completed the sale its indirect minority stake an Indian refiner,

Nayara

, that is part-owned by Russia's Rosneft. (Reporting by Francesca Landini; additional reporting by Julia Payne in Brussels; Editing by Chris Reese and Leslie Adler)