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Telenor’s Worst Nightmare

Published: June 30, 2009 (Issue # 1487)




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Telenor, the Norwegian telecoms giant, is caught in a dispute with Alfa Group, one of Russia’s largest holdings, over the highly lucrative mobile telephone business in Russia and Ukraine. The Norwegian state is a majority shareholder of Telenor, and Alfa is owned by Mikhail Fridman, an oligarch estimated by Forbes in 2008 to be among the 20 richest people in the world. He also has close ties to the Kremlin.

The background to this revealing story of how the power elite do business is as follows: VimpelCom, Russia’s second-largest mobile phone operator, is 44 percent owned by Alfa, and 29.9 percent of the voting stock — 33.6 percent of actual shares — is owned by Telenor. In Kyivstar, Ukraine’s No. 1 mobile phone operator, the situation is somewhat reversed: Telenor owns 56.5 percent, and Alfa has 43.5 percent.

In 2004, VimpelCom, keen to expand into the Ukrainian market, proposed the take over of a small company called Ukrainian Radio Systems, or URS. The deal was opposed by Telenor, which fended off the move for a year, but the purchase was approved by shareholders in 2005. The purchase price totaled $231 million after URS was unsuccessfully offered to another bidder for $100 million.

At the heart of the deal was a shareholders’ agreement between Telenor and Alfa that any arbitration would take place in Geneva. However, a microscopic shareholder in VimpelCom, Farimex, took Telenor to court in Siberia for loss of profits in the Ukrainian market. Farimex owns 0.002 percent of VimpelCom’s shares and is registered in the British Virgin Islands. The owner apparently was a businessman named Dmitry Fridman, and Alfa insisted that there was no connection to Mikhail Fridman.

Farimex said Telenor stalled VimpelCom’s penetration into the Ukrainian market and thus damaged growth prospects, claiming an absurd $1.7 billion for the one-year delay. Still, Farimex won its case in Omsk last year. Telenor refused to put up the money and saw its stock in VimpelCom frozen by the court. An appeal scheduled for June 10 was delayed until Sept. 30 for “technical reasons.”

This outcome is Telenor’s worst nightmare. It had hoped for a decision, any decision, and to bring the case to the Supreme Court in Moscow. Under Russian law, the court can take ownership of confiscated property after a second trial — even if there is an appeal pending to the Supreme Court. So, Telenor’s shares in VimpelCom can now be sold on the open market before September and before any consideration by the Supreme Court. In that case, it is game over. Court marshals said on June 19 that they had approved an order to auction off Telenor’s shares and that the parties were in the process of being notified.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Tuesday, Jan. 27


Observe the 71st anniversary of the end of the Siege of Leningrad on Palace Square with a free concert at 7 p.m. Listen to WWII-era songs and the poetry of Olga Bergholz while you peruse outdoor exhibitions dedicated to life during wartime. The event is capped off by a fireworks display at 9 p.m.



Stop by the Lexica School of Foreign Languages at 73 Ligovsky Prospekt from now until Friday for a free English lesson. The classes start at 7 p.m. and cover all levels, from Beginner to Advanced. Registration by telephone on 7641692 and a desire to improve your skills are the only prerequisites.



Wednesday, Jan. 28



Feel like becoming a publishing mogul? Stop by the Freedom anti-cafe at 7 Ulitsa Kazanskaya today at 8 p.m. where Simferopol, Crimea-based founder and chief editor of the Holst online magazine will talk about creating an internet magaine, including what stories to cover, how find an audience and build a team, where to find inspiration and how to stand out from the crowd. Admission is the normal price of the anti-café — 2 rubles per minute, which includes tea and snacks.



Learn everything you always wanted to know about wine, and perhaps a bit more, at the Le Nez du Vin seminar for wine lovers. Held at the WineJet Sommelier School, 100 Bolshoy Prospekt Petrograd Side, at 7:30 p.m., the event will cover wine production, the basics of wine tasting, the concept of terroir and the various countries where wine is produced. Tickets are 750 rubles and include a wine tasting. Register by calling +7 921 744 6264.



Thursday, Jan. 29



Attend a master class on how to deal with complicated business negotiations today at the International Banking Institute, 6 Malaya Sadovaya Ulitsa. Running from 3 to 6 p.m., Vadim Sokolov, an assistant professor at the St. Petersburg State University of Economics, will introduce aspects of managing the negotiation process and increasing its effectiveness. Attendance is free with pre-registration by telephone on 909 3056 or online at www.ibispb.ru



Celebrate what would be writer Anton Chekhov's 155th birthday at the Bokvoed bookshop at 46 Nevsky Prospekt. Starting at 5 p.m., the legendary author will be feted with readings of his stories and short performances based on his plays by various St. Petersburg actors. Chekhov's books will also be offered at a 15% discount during the event.





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