MOSCOW. Nov 23 (Interfax) - Russia's Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) has asked the Arbitration Court of Moscow to drop all of its claims against Telenor associated with the company's increasing its stake in Vimpelcom Ltd., a FAS press statement says.
"The government of the Russian Federation has decided to withdraw the FAS suit filed with the Arbitration Court of Moscow calling for the nullification of the company Telenor's deals in relation to stock in OJSC Vimpelcom (RTS: VIMP) and injunctive measures earlier applied by the court in this dispute, considering the developed accordance of votes by the two main OJSC Vimpelcom shareholders," the statement says.
"We thank Vimpelcom shareholders for their patience in this difficult dispute and are very glad that it is over," FAS Chairman Igor Artemyev said.
FAS took its clam to court in April asking for the invalidation of a deal completed in February between Norway's Telenor and Weather, the company of Egyptian millionaire Naguib Sawiris. The deal increased the Norwegian company's voting share in Vimpelcom to 36.36% from 25.01%. Later Telenor further increased its voting stake to 39.51% through an option with JP Morgan.
FAS believed Telenor should have, in accordance with Russian legislation on foreign investment, previously obtained approval for the deal as by buying Vimpelcom shares it increased its interest in the Russian strategic company Vimpelcom.
FAS also disputed the option agreement between Telenor and Weather, in accordance with which the Norwegians, despite court injunctions, acquired the remaining preferred shares from Sawiris in September and increased their voting stake from 39.5% to 42.95%.
The Arbitration Court of Moscow was to hear the FAS claim against Telenor on November 27.
FAS had already proposed an out-of-court settlement, the terms of which were approved by the service and the legal commission on foreign investment in the summer. The main requirement was to ensure parity between the majority foreign and Russian shareholders of Vimpelcom - Telenor and Altimo.
When the settlement was proposed, Telenor owned 39.5% of Vimpelcom and Altimo - 24.99%. Since then Telenor increased its stake to 42.95% through its option with Weather and Altimo increased its stake to 47.85% by buying common shares from Sawiris, who has almost completely withdrawn from the telecom company's capital, by buying shares on the market and by buying preferred shares from Bertofan Investments, which is owned by Ukrainian businessman Viktor Pinchuk.
After the deal with Pinchuk, Altimo said that it was satisfied with the proportion of shares between Vimpelcom shareholders. A source close to Altimo told the press that the company did not plan to increase its interest in Vimpelcom to the controlling stake.
Altimo Vice President Yevgeny Dumalkin told Interfax on Friday that the company welcomes the withdrawal of the lawsuit as it means the company can get back to normal corporate governance and payment of dividends, on which an injunction had been placed. Dumalkin said the Supervisory Board should make a decision on dividends after the court confirms that it has lifted the injunction.
When asked how the two majority shareholders would now cooperate, Telenor said it would maintain the position expressed by its CEO Jon Fredrik Baksaas in an interview with the Vedomosti newspaper this week.
The Telenor CEO said it would be most logical to govern Vimpelcom without a shareholder agreement. The previous shareholder agreement between Telenor and Altimo was terminated on Altimo's initiative after the sale of part of its stake in July 2011.
(Our editorial staff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
'Coal blockade' protesters threaten to block rail traffic between Ukraine, Russia
Russian Church accuses opponents of St. Isaac's Cathedral handover of attempting to "rock the boat"
Over 3 bln rubles to be invested in overhaul of Tor missile system's maker by 2019