Kovalchuk May Buy Stake in Tele2 Russia, Sell Part of Sobinbank

Billionaire Yury Kovalchuk’s Bank Rossiya is studying buying a stake in wireless operator Tele2 Russia and may sell shares in its Sobinbank unit, spokesman Alexander Karmaev said by e-mail.

Kovalchuk, an ally of Vladimir Putin from the president’s hometown of St. Petersburg, may use Tele2 Russia to expand in telecommunications and media. The businessman controls National Media Group and is also a co-owner of CTC Media Inc. (CTCM) with the Stenbeck family, which formed Tele2 AB. (TEL2B)

Two Bank Rossiya affiliates asked for antitrust approval last week to buy as much as 50 percent in Tele2 Russia from VTB Group. The deal may be worth $1.5 billion, according to ZAO Raiffeisenbank in Moscow. After the deal, Tele2 Russia may be combined with state-controlled OAO Rostelecom’s mobile unit, Vedomosti reported today.

Bank Rossiya may bring new partners into its Sobinbank unit to develop a mobile bank, Karmaev said.

Rostelecom is interested in entering the financial services market, Kira Kiryukhina, a spokeswoman for the telecommunications operator, said by phone today, declining to comment on a Kommersant report today that the company is in talks to buy Sobinbank.

Rostelecom may use Sobinbank to develop financial services to mimic OAO Mobile TeleSystems, Russia’s largest wireless carrier, which offers banking services in its retail stores, Sergey Libin, an analyst at Raiffeisenbank in Moscow, said by phone. Even with an acquisition, “it will be more difficult for Rostelecom because of its smaller retail network.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Ilya Khrennikov in Moscow at ikhrennikov@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kenneth Wong at kwong11@bloomberg.net

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