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Russian Billionaires Clash for Control of Vodka Producer CEDC

A group led by billionaire Mikhail Fridman raised its bid for Central European Distribution Corp., escalating a battle between two of Russia’s richest men to rescue the Polish vodka maker.

The group will offer holders of CEDC’s 2016 bonds as much as $230 million in cash and $650 million of new notes, according to a letter sent to bondholders late yesterday. In addition to Fridman’s A1 company, the group includes CEDC minority shareholder Mark Kaufman and Stolichnaya vodka seller SPI Group.

The A1 group is taking on billionaire Roustam Tariko, who bought into Warsaw-based CEDC last year and now owns 19.5 percent. Tariko’s Roust Trading offered holders of the 2016 bonds $172 million in cash and $650 million in loans in a March 8 proposal that was supported by CEDC.

“It may be tricky for bondholders to support the alternative offer,” said Ivan Kushch, analyst at VTB Capital in Moscow. “The company has officially backed Tariko’s proposal.”

CEDC said on Feb. 25 that without a rescue it may file for bankruptcy as it was unable to repay $258 million of notes due March 15. The company gets two-thirds of sales in Russia, where it produces Zelyonaya Marka, Parliament and Zhuravli vodka.

Fridman and his partners in Alfa Group are set to receive $14 billion from the sale of TNK-BP oil company to OAO Rosneft.

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