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10 Jun, 2009 13:57

VimpelCom high noon postponed for Telenor and Alfa

The appeal by Norwegian telecoms giant, Telenor, against a $1.7 billion fine has been postponed by a Siberian court until late September.

The long-running battle between Alfa Group and Telenor, over control of mobile operator VimpelCom, seems set to go on. Telenor has been locked in a struggle for several years over telecoms assets in Russia and Ukraine.

The recent court case concerns claims against Telenor by Farimex, a minority shareholder in VimpelCom. Telenor claims Farimex is a front for Alfa, which holds a 44% stake in VimpelCom. Alfa denies any link.

Farimex claimed $1.7 billion for losses it says Telenor caused VimpelCom by stalling its penetration into the Ukrainian market. Telenor, which also has a stake in Ukrainian mobile firm Kievstar, didn't want more competition, some experts according to Philip Townsend, Head of Research at Metropol.

“Telenor did act to prevent VimpelCom from entering the Ukrainian market at a time when it could have actually established a market share.”

Alfa’s telecoms arm Altimo says its not aiming to buy Telenor’s stake in the Russian mobile operator, if it's sold off, according to Senior Vice President, Kirill Babaev.

“We don’t want to increase our shareholding in VimpelCom at this time. We feel our position is very strong. This corporate governance situation in VimpelCom is very beneficial for all shareholders. There is no controlling shareholder. So this is a balance situation which allows the management of VimpelCom to act independently. We would like to preserve this situation. So we don’t want to establish our control over VimpelCom this time.”

Alfa itself has launched a similar case against Telenor in Geneva and claims a merger of Kievstar and VimpelCom could be the most beneficial outcome for all shareholders.