Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman is poised to win a majority of board seats at VimpelCom Ltd. (VIP) after his stake in the mobile-phone company overtook that of investor Telenor ASA (TEL), analysts at Renaissance Capital said.
Fridman’s Altimo holding company raised its voting stake in Amsterdam-based VimpelCom, Russia’s third-biggest mobile-phone service, to 47.9 percent versus Telenor’s 43 percent, according to an Oct. 29 filing. VimpelCom plans its annual shareholders meeting for Dec. 21 to re-elect the board of directors, the operator said in a filing on Nov. 9.
“Since the shareholder agreement between Altimo and Telenor has ended, the board structure no longer requires three Telenor, three Altimo and three independent members,” Alexander Kazbegi, an analyst Renaissance Capital in Moscow, said today in a research report. “With a higher stake in VimpelCom, Altimo would be able to place more representatives on the board.”
Telenor, the Nordic region’s biggest phone company, and Altimo have struggled since February for influence over VimpelCom, with both buying shares from Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris, then the third-largest investor in the mobile operator. Russia’s Anti-Monopoly Service prevented Telenor in April from adding to its stake in VimpelCom, which has strategic assets in the country, to exceed local shareholders’ ownership without state approval.
VimpelCom, which has 208 million customers in Russia and Italy as well as in African and Asian markets, postponed a decision on a dividend distribution in late May after a Moscow court handling the antitrust watchdog’s claim banned the operator’s Russian unit from making payouts to the parent company.
Altimo’s role as VimpelCom’s largest shareholder should enable “restoration of corporate governance,” resolution of court claims and resumption of dividends at the mobile operator, Altimo Vice President Evgeny Dumalkin said Oct. 30.
The Dec. 21 annual meeting will take place as long as injunctions are lifted before Nov. 27, VimpelCom said in its filing.
That may allow a final dividend payment for 2011, and “possibly” an interim payment for this year, said Kazbegi of Renaissance Capital.
Bobby Leach, a spokesman for VimpelCom, said board members are elected based on a cumulative vote, declining to comment on whether Altimo may receive more seats than Telenor.
Dividend payments are solely a matter for the board and not the annual meeting, Leach said in an e-mail.
Altimo’s Dumalkin declined today to comment on the matter.
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