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TeliaSonera, Altimo may fail to oust Turkcell chairman

26 апреля 2011

Russian and Swedish shareholders in Turkey's dominant mobile-phone operator, Turkcell AS, are "very nervous" that an extraordinary meeting tabled for Thursday will fail to remove the company's current chairman, sending a negative signal about Turkey's corporate governance and leading to heightened acrimony on the company's board, people familiar with the negotiations said.

Thursday's boardroom vote, due to start at 1200GMT, comes amid a protracted legal battle for control of Turkcell between TeliaSonera AB of Sweden, and Altimo, a unit of Russia's Alfa Group on one side, and Turkish businessman Mehmet Karamehmet on the other.

People familiar the negotiations said initial confidence that shareholders would approve the motion to remove Turkcell chairman Colin Williams for allegedly favoring Mehmet Karamehmet's Cukurova Holding AS, Turkcell's controlling shareholder, had give way to a "strong likelihood" that it would fail. Cukurova also appears to have succeeded in scaring policymakers that diluting their control of Turkcell, one of Turkey's most identifiable brands, could dent their popularity ahead of national elections, the people added. As a result, some key officials have withdrawn their active support for the deal.

Altimo and TeliaSonera executives told Dow Jones last week that Williams' favoritism had helped to block the firm's expansion into foreign markets and was hampering growth prospects. They want to replace Mr. Williams on Thursday and add two more independent members to the board, diluting Karamehmet's influence.

Analysts say the Turkcell board battle is being closely watched as a test case for Turkish corporate governance.

Williams became Turkcell's chairman in February last year, when founding chairman Karamehmet stepped down after being sentenced to almost 12 years by a Turkish court for financial impropriety. He hasn't been jailed and the case is pending appeal.

Altimo and TeliaSonera have pledged that they wouldn't remove Turkcell CEO Sureyya Ciliv, but stressed that Turkcell should use its $3 billion cash pile to expand aggressively into Middle East and African markets, capitalizing on Turkey's growing diplomatic and business clout across the region.

Neither Williams nor Turkcell could immediately be reached for comment. Williams said last month that he had always fulfilled his duties as an independent board member and would vigorously defend himself in a separate lawsuit launched by TeliaSonera alleging that he failed to be neutral in board disputes.

At Thursday's meeting, Altimo will suggest 10 candidates to replace Williams, including Julian Horn Smith, a former Vodafone executive who now sits on Altimo's advisory board, a spokesman for Altimo said.

Rising shareholder tensions could aggravate Turkcell's challenges. Domestic expansion is limited by high mobile penetration, while a price war with the other two participants in the market, Vodafone Turkey, a unit of Vodafone Group PLC, and Avea, a unit of Turk Telekom AS, has dented profit margins. The mobile operator's share price has slumped 15% this year after a lower-than-expected increase in subscriber numbers and higher operating costs clouded the outlook. Turkcell has a 55% market share.

Turkcell, a midsize participant globally, has sought to expand operations in recent times, this month opening a virtual network operated in partnership with Deutsche Telekom AG, offering mobile services to the millions of ethnic Turks in Germany. Turkcell already has subsidiaries in a number of former Soviet states, including Ukraine and Kazakhstan. But the firm's last foreign acquisition was in Belarus in 2008. It scrapped plans to bid for Syria's third mobile license in early April.

Источник: Total Telecom

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