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Ukraine probe adds to Telenor woes ahead of PM visit

19 мая 2009

Norway's prime minister Jens Stoltenberg heads to Moscow for talks some hope could ease a row between Telenor ASA and its Russian partner, just as a new investigation in Ukraine showed how hard it will be to resolve the long-running feud.

A small investment company, Farimex, which Telenor says is acting on behalf of co-investor Alfa Group, has written to Ukrainian authorities accusing the Norwegian telecommunication company of breaking competition law to protect the position of Kyivstar. Telenor owns 53% of Kyivstar, Ukraine's largest mobile operator, and Alfa owns the rest.

Farimex has won a $1.7 billion damages claim against Telenor in Russian courts, which triggered a freeze on the Norwegian company's shares in Russian mobile operator OAO Vimpel Communications, leading Telenor to accuse its co-investor of "attempting to steal with the aid of Russian courts."

Telenor said that Farimex "claims that Telenor ... hindered competition in Ukraine through delaying VimpelCom's acquisition of (local mobile operator) Ukrainian Radio Systems."

That complaint, which is now being investigated by Ukraine's antimonopoly committee, echoes the argument that Farimex has used in Russian courts to win the $1.7 billion damages award.

Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg is due to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin Tuesday, and the Norwegian government, which owns 54% of Telenor, has said that the Russian lawsuits against Telenor will be one of the most important issues on their agenda.

Telenor has also invested alongside Alfa in VimpelCom, with a 30% stake compared with Alfa's 44%, and both companies have said that they are in negotiations to restructure their common holdings.

Telenor says that Farimex's lawsuits are a pressure tactic intended to strengthen Alfa's hand in negotiations.

Separately, in a report released Monday ratings agency Fitch said that Telenor's dispute with Alfa has raised the company's risk profile. It added that the conflict has reached a climax, but could "protract for quite some time."

Russia's own antimonopoly service recently added VimpelCom to the list of companies that are strategically important; Vimpelcom serves more than a quarter of Russia's mobile subscribers.

That decision may also restrict Telenor's bargaining power with Alfa, since if talks break down, the Norwegian company won't be able to increase its 30% VimpelCom stake or sell it to another foreign investor without approval from a Russian government committee.

In late trade Monday, Telenor shares were down 0.3% at NOK48.95, in an overall higher Norwegian market.

Источник: Total Telecom

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