Tycoon Fridman Boosts VimpelCom Stake in Telenor Fight

Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman’s Altimo agreed to increase its voting stake in mobile-phone operator VimpelCom Ltd. to 47.9 percent by buying shares from Ukrainian billionaire Viktor Pinchuk.

Altimo agreed to pay $218 million to buy 123.6 million preferred shares from Pinchuk’s Bertofan Investments Ltd, it said in a filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission yesterday. The deal is to be completed in 60 days, according to the filing.

Telenor ASA, the Nordic region’s biggest phone company, and Altimo have been fighting since February for influence over VimpelCom, which owns assets in Russia, Italy, Africa and Asia. Fridman’s company now overtakes Telenor, which holds 43 percent of VimpelCom’s voting shares. Altimo is satisfied with the current ownership stakes, Evgeny Dumalkin, vice-president at Altimo in Moscow, said today by e-mail.

“This deal will free VimpelCom and allow it to restore corporate governance, remove court claims, service debt obligations more effectively and resume dividends,” Dumalkin said. “We hope that this deal will remove the issue of possible foreign control in VimpelCom and will become a key step to end the conflict between Russia’s antitrust watchdog and Telenor.”

Russia’s anti-monopoly regulator took legal action this year to stop Telenor from gaining control of the company, which owns assets deemed “strategic” by the Russian government.

“It remains to be seen what the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service will do, but for us it’s confirmation that Altimo is now in full control of the company,” Dag Melgaard, a Telenor spokesman, said today. “It would be sensible” for the regulator “to drop the lawsuit altogether.”

Telenor shares rose 1.8 percent to 112.5 kroner at 11:50 a.m. in Oslo. VimpelCom shares closed at $10.71 on Oct. 26 in New York, up 13 percent this year. The U.S. market was shut yesterday and will be closed today because of the superstorm Sandy.

-- Editors: James Kraus, Robert Valpuesta.

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