Usmanov Tightens Grip Over MegaFon in Wireless Growth Bet

Billionaire Alisher Usmanov tightened his grip over OAO MegaFon by boosting his stake in a holding company that controls the second-biggest Russian wireless carrier, betting on continued growth in mobile-data demand.

Garsdale, an investment vehicle that controls MegaFon, bought 13.5 percent of its own shares from the founders of Scartel, a data carrier recently purchased by MegaFon, Usmanov’s investment firm USM Holdings said in an e-mailed statement. The transaction boosts USM’s stake in Garsdale to about 95 percent from 82 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Garsdale owns just over 50 percent of Moscow-based MegaFon.

Usmanov competes with fellow billionaires Mikhail Fridman, who controls VimpelCom Ltd., and Vladimir Evtushenkov, who controls OAO Mobile TeleSystems, as consumers in Russia increasingly browse the Web on their mobile phones. MegaFon completed its purchase of Scartel this month, gaining a faster, so-called fourth-generation network.

“Acquisition of Scartel created strategic advantages for MegaFon on the Russian wireless market, boosting its investment attractiveness,” Ivan Streshinskiy, head of USM, said in the statement. Buying out Scartel founders “will further enhance our position on the market.”

The value of the stake purchase announced today is about $1.5 billion, newspaper Kommersant reported. Elena Martynova, a spokeswoman for USM and Garsdale, declined to comment on terms.

MegaFon rose 0.5 percent to $36.87 at 9:06 a.m. in London, valuing the company at about $23 billion. The stock has gained more than 80 percent since a November initial public offering.

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