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Telenor fears Siberian court's ruling
|14 ноября 2008|
Norway's Telenor ASA fears that a Siberian court next week could threaten its control of a big stake in a major Russian cellphone company, where it is in a fight with the same Russian group that battled with BP PLC in an oil venture over the summer.
Lawyers for the Oslo-based telecommunications company said they fear that the Eighth Arbitrage Appellate Court in Omsk on Tuesday could rule against Telenor in a case involving Telenor's 29.9% stake in Russia's OAO Vimpel Communications. If Telenor loses, a $2.8 billion judgment against the company would come into effect, likely leading to the seizure of Telenor's roughly $4.5 billion stake, lawyers said.
Telenor has been engaged in a long-running fight with Russian partner Altimo over the direction of VimpelCom, Russia's second-biggest cellphone company by subscribers, after OAO Mobile Telesystems. Telenor and Altimo parent Alfa Group have traded accusations of bad faith and dirty tricks and filed suit in courts from Russia to the U.S.
Alfa, controlled by billionaire Mikhail Fridman, had a flare-up with BP this summer over their TNK-BP Ltd. joint venture, where the BP-backed chief executive was forced out of Russia under pressure from courts and regulators. BP accused Alfa of orchestrating the campaign, which Alfa denies.
Some foreigners say the climate for outside investment in Russia, never a particularly welcome one, has gotten chillier in recent weeks as powerful local players, squeezed by the global financial crisis, have taken advantage of a weak and often corrupt local court system to manhandle smaller investors. Kremlin officials say they want to improve the investment climate and woo foreign capital, but investors say progress has been limited.
In the VimpelCom case, the Omsk court set off alarm bells among Western creditors of Alfa last month when the court issued an order that appeared to favor Alfa. The court ordered a freeze on both Telenor's and Alfa's stakes in the company, even though Alfa had already been deemed not liable in the case. By freezing Alfa's stake, the order effectively blocked a margin call by Western creditors on Alfa's shares, which had been pledged as collateral for $2 billion in loans. Alfa executives said they didn't seek the freeze order and worked to have it lifted.
After strong protests from the lenders, the Russian government granted a loan to Alfa to pay the foreign banks. Almost immediately, the Omsk court lifted the freeze order.
The underlying case was brought by Farimex Products Ltd., an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands that owns a small stake in VimpelCom and accused Alfa and Telenor of harming Farimex with their dispute over a two-year old acquisition. But Telenor has accused Alfa of being behind Farimex. Alfa denies that.
Farimex first brought its suit in Khanty-Mansiisk, a Siberian oil town where Alfa has deep roots. The court there dropped the claim against Alfa but found Telenor liable for $2.8 billion in damages. Telenor appealed that ruling, leading to the hearings in Omsk.
This week, Alfa called on Telenor to investigate what it claims is evidence of intercepting Altimo phone calls and email messages. Telenor dismissed the allegations, saying they were largely falsified.
Источник: Total Telecom