VimpelCom Free to Pay Dividends After Russia Pulls Teleno

Russia agreed to withdraw legal claims against Telenor ASA, allowing the Norwegian phone company’s affiliate VimpelCom Ltd. to distribute dividends to investors including billionaire Mikhail Fridman’s Altimo.

The claims were removed after Altimo increased its stake in VimpelCom, making it the telecommunications company’s largest shareholder, the Federal Antimonopoly Service, or FAS, said today in a statement on its website. VimpelCom jumped 3.2 percent to $11.03 by 9:55 a.m. in New York, the biggest advance since Nov. 1.

FAS said in April that Telenor had no right to increase its holding in VimpelCom to a level exceeding Russian shareholders’ ownership without state approval. It also won a Moscow court ruling banning VimpelCom from paying dividends.

Since then, Altimo bought more shares from Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris and other investors, boosting its stake to 47.9 percent of voting shares versus Fornebu, Norway-based Telenor’s 43 percent.

VimpelCom Chief Executive Officer Jo Lunder said on Nov. 14 that the supervisory board may recommend dividend payments for 2011 and 2012 after the injunctions are lifted. VimpelCom has a policy to pay a dividend of at least 80 U.S. cents a share.

The withdrawal of the claims against Telenor still needs formal court approval, with a hearing scheduled for Nov. 27. “VimpelCom awaits a formal decision from the Moscow Arbitration Court on the withdrawal request and an official removal of the injunctions,” the company said in a statement today.

Telenor declined 0.7 percent to 116.3 kroner in Oslo, paring its advance this year to 19 percent. Vimpelcom has gained 16 percent this year.

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