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Telenor chief warns on Russian legal risks

26 апреля 2010

The resolution of Telenor’s long-running feud with Alfa Group sends a positive signal to foreign investors in Russia but the country’s opaque legal system continues to pose a risk, says the head of the Norwegian mobile operator.

Jon Fredrik Baksaas, Telenor chief executive, said Telenor and Alfa, the Russian conglomerate, had put past disputes behind them after completing a merger of their Russian and Ukrainian assets last week.

But he warned that greater transparency was needed in Russia’s legal system after a five-year battle with Alfa that became a symbol of the pitfalls facing foreign investors in the country.

“The manner in which the conflict has been resolved in a balanced and well-organised solution helps a lot but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still risks,” he told the Financial Times. “There need to be more examples of an improved situation.”

Telenor and Alfa agreed last year to fold their holdings in Vimpelcom of Russia and Kyivstar of Ukraine into a new joint venture, subject to the settlement of a lawsuit that had threatened to strip the Norwegian group of its stake in Vimpelcom.

The deal was completed last week after Farimex, a shell company that Telenor accused of acting as a front for Alfa, dropped its lawsuit against the Norwegian group.

Last year, a Siberian court froze Telenor’s stake in Vimpelcom to cover $1.7bn in damages awarded to Farimex, a small shareholder in Vimpelcom, which had accused Telenor of harming the Russian operator by trying to stop it entering the Ukrainian market. Alfa denies any link to Farimex.

Mr Baksaas said the case had exposed the immaturity of Russia’s judicial system. “Rome wasn’t built in a day. These institutions only started being built in the 1990s.”

Resolution of the lawsuit cleared the way for the new joint venture to start trading on the New York Stock Exchange last Thursday under the Vimpelcom name. “It’s been a long journey to get here,” said Mr Baksaas.

“Both parties have tried to understand each other’s perspective. We’ve created a balanced governance structure that will give the company the stability it needs to develop.”

Ukraine’s anti-monopoly regulator threw up a last-minute obstacle late last week when it announced plans to review its earlier approval of the deal.

Telenor said the intervention was “strange” considering the merger was already completed but was confident the deal would not be overturned.

Telenor and Altimo, the telecommunications arm of Alfa, each own just over 39 per cent of the joint venture, with Altimo holding a slightly bigger share of the voting rights.

The company is registered in Bermuda, headquartered in the Netherlands and listed in New York, putting it outside the Russian courts.

With 88m subscribers and combined annual revenues of about $12bn, the enlarged Vimpelcom is the second-largest mobile operator in Russia and the biggest in Ukraine.

Источник: Financial Times

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