Telenor denies mulling sale of Vimpelcom stake

Thursday press reports said Norway's Telenor may be ready to sell its stake in Russian mobile group Vimpelcom. That would be to end its long running conflict with another controlling shareholder – Alfa Group. But Telenor has denied the reports.

Telenor-Russia’s head Kjell Morton Johnson said the company’s statement was misinterpreted. It is in no way prepared to part with Vimpelcom.

“We have no intention or desire or wish to reduce our stake in Vimpelcom.  Ideally we would like to have an even closer and tighter relationship with the company, and a more industrial approach like we have in 11 other countries, and we see that that recipe works. But like I said, only after a dialogue with Russian authorities and some kind of settlement with Alfa would that be possible. And we can not completely control those steps.”

The four-year quarrel with Alfa Group's telecoms arm, Altimo, took a bizarre turn last week when a court in Russia ordered Telenor to pay $2.8 Billion in damages ruling that it had stalled Vimpelcoms $230 million deal to buy a Ukrainian mobile operator. Telenor said it would appeal.

But Phillip Townsend, Senior Analyst at Metropol says, despite the hostility and the legal hassle, the return Vimpelcom generates means that Telenor will not leave Russia any time soon:

“Telenor simply would not get a return as great as they are getting from Vimpelcom from any other asset that they have. I mean, just to put simple numbers on it, in its second quarter the associates line, which is where vimpelcom comes into the profit and loss account of Telenor was worth approximately 1.86 Billion Norwegian Krona.  That’s 36% of the total pre tax profit for Telenor in the second quarter.  If they get rid of Vimpelcom, they lose that.”

In addition to Vympelcom, Telenor and Mikhail Fridman’s Alfa Group jointly own a Ukraine’s biggest mobile operator Kievstar which has been at the heart of the dispute.