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Court freezes tycoon’s stake in Vimpelcom

29 октября 2008

A Russian court has frozen Mikhail Fridman’s stake in Vimpelcom, the mobile phone operator, just as the tycoon’s telecoms group faces difficult talks with Deutsche Bank on early repayment of $2bn in bonds pledged with Vimpelcom shares.

The move, which also froze a stake in Vimpelcom owned by Norway’s Telenor, could complicate efforts by a syndicate of western creditors led by Deutsche Bank to seize the shares pledged as collateral if the two sides fail to agree.

Altimo, the telecoms arm of Mr Fridman’s Alfa Group which owns a 44 per cent stake in Vimpelcom, is in talks with Deutsche about restructuring an agreement for $2bn in bonds after the Vimpelcom shares pledged as collateral plunged in Russia’s stock market rout, people familiar with the situation said.

One person said Eco Telecom, an affiliate of Altimo, had failed three times to make payments demanded by creditors last week. The creditors had reserved the right to seize the collateral, the person said.

Deutsche Bank declined to comment last night. Altimo confirmed the Siberian court had frozen the shares following a lawsuit by Farimex, a British Virgin Islands-registered minority shareholder, but it declined to say how this might affect the talks with Deutsche.

It has insisted it will meet credit obligations and has rejected reports that it might be forced to divest its Vimpelcom stake.

Altimo pledged its entire 44 per cent stake in Vimpelcom, Russia’s number two operator, to Deutsche Bank in 2007 as collateral for bonds issued by Eco Telecom. A 16 per cent stake was pledged as security for a $1.5bn tranche and a 28 per cent stake was pledged as security for a $500m tranche, according to public disclosures.

New York-traded shares in Vimpelcom last week fell below the level at which Deutsche can call for early repayment of the $1.5bn tranche, according to a copy of the bond agreement obtained by the FT. It is unclear how much cash collateral – if any – Altimo had previously posted.

Farimex filed a suit in April in a Siberian court claiming damages against Altimo and Telenor for the failed expansion of Vimpelcom into Ukraine. The court held that only Telenor, which holds a 29.9 per cent stake in Vimpelcom, was liable for $2.8bn in damages. Telenor is appealing against the ruling.

The court in Omsk yesterday granted a request by Farimex to freeze the shares held by both Altimo and Telenor as security to ensure payment. Dmitry Fridman is the sole director of Farimex. Mikhail Fridman has denied any connection to him.

Источник: Financial Times

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