GORKI, November 28 (RIA Novosti) – The Russian government’s foreign investment commission has validated all deals concluded by Norwegian telecoms giant Telenor with the stock of mobile firm VimpelCom in a dispute with another Vimpelcom shareholder and the competition watchdog, the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service (FAS) said on Wednesday.
“We recognized as valid all the deals that had become bones of contention between Telenor and us. Telenor does not need to re-register anything or apply to the government commission,” FAS head Igor Artemyev said after a meeting of the government commission for foreign investment.
“All the transactions, which they [Telenor] performed and led to the emergence of disputes, were legalized by the commission.”
Russia’s competition watchdog previously challenged a deal concluded by Telenor in February 2012 with Weather Investments owned by Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris.
The deal allowed Telenor to raise its stake in VimpelCom to 36.36 percent from 25 percent and become the Russian mobile firm’s largest shareholder compared with 24.99 percent held at that time by Altimo, the telecoms arm of Russian conglomerate Alfa Group and another VimpelCom key shareholder.
Telenor subsequently raised its stake in Vimpelcom to 39.5 percent through an option with JP Morgan and then to 42.9 percent by exercising an option with Weather Investments.
Altimo claimed that Weather and Telenor violated shareholder agreements by failing to make a mandatory tender offer for VimpelCom shares while the competition watchdog took the matter to a court saying the deal established foreign control over a Russian strategic company in violation of the law and without approval from the government commission for foreign investment.
Both the FAS and the government commission on foreign investment earlier said parity between the Russian and foreign shareholders of VimpelCom was a required condition to settle the dispute.
Altimo took steps in the past few months to increase its stake in the mobile firm. In November 2012, Altimo bought 5.95 percent of Vimpelcom shares from Bertofan Investments Limited owned by Ukrainian businessman Viktor Pinchuk, increasing its voting stake in the Russian mobile firm to 47.85 percent and overtaking Telenor as the dominant shareholder in Vimpelcom.
Following the move, the FAS withdrew its lawsuits against Telenor.
Telenor currently holds 42.95 percent of voting rights in Vimpelcom.
Artemyev said the compromise achieved by Telenor and Altimo suited both sides.
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Any response would likely boomerang on Russia – the partnership between Rosneft and ExxonMobil is a case in point. The United States has hit Russia with a third round of sanctions. This time the Americans went with a higher caliber weapon, targeting Russia’s biggest energy companies (Rosneft and Novatek) and banks (VEB and Gazprombank).