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Billionaire Usmanov Seeks to Boost Stake in VKontakte Next Year

Dec. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Billionaire Alisher Usmanov said he plans to boost his stake in VKontakte, Russia’s largest social network, next year, adding to his investments in competitors to Facebook Inc.

Usmanov is ready to boost the stake at a reasonable price and is in talks with VKontakte shareholders, the billionaire told state television Rossiya 24 today. Usmanov’s Internet holding Mail.ru Group Ltd., which controls Russian social networks Odnoklassniki and My World, owns a stake of almost 40 percent in VKontakte.

Usmanov is also in talks about an acceptable ownership structure with VKontakte founder Pavel Durov, who wants VKontakte to stay operationally independent from Mail.ru, the billionaire said, calling Durov a genius.

Mail.ru has been seeking control of St. Petersburg-based VKontakte to cement its dominance in the Russian social-networking market. VKontakte leads the market, followed by Moscow-based Mail.ru’s Odnoklassniki and My World. Mail.ru may consider selling its stake in VKontakte as attempts to gain control could turn “counter-productive,” Ivan Streshinskiy, a board member of Mail.ru, said earlier this month.

Any move that curtails Durov’s leadership might hurt VKontakte, Streshinskiy said at the time.

Vyacheslav Mirilashvili and Lev Leviev, who helped programmer Durov set up the company in 2006, have no plans to sell their combined 48 percent stake, Leviev said in an interview in October. Leviev couldn’t be reached for comment today.

Vladislav Tsyplukhin, a spokesman for Durov, who holds a 12 percent stake, declined to comment on the matter.

Usmanov in May transferred the voting rights from his stake to Durov.

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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