The head of Telenor’s Russia division told Reuters news agency yesterday that the Norwegian group will not significantly lower its 29.9% voting interest in Russian cellco Vimpelcom. Kjell-Morten Johnsen said that the Oslo-based operator had a long term commitment to the Russian market and that Vimpelcom, the country’s second largest wireless provider by users, was ‘a very good company.’ His comments were in response to a share swap deal rumoured to be on the cards, which would involve Telenor taking 100% control of Ukraine’s mobile market leader Kyivstar by acquiring Alfa Group’s entire 43.5% stake; in return, Alfa, which is Vimpelcom’s largest shareholder, would gain an additional 12% voting stake in the Russian cellco, as well as a 5% stake in Telenor itself, currently held by the Norwegian government as part of its 54% total interest. Johnsen added: ‘We are ready to discuss buying out Alfa Group’s stake in Kyivstar…But if Alfa’s representatives start showing up at shareholders and board meetings [the two have had a long running boardroom feud], we don’t mind staying with them in Kyivstar, working in good faith…We can wait. We don’t need to hurry.’
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