Altimo sees Sawiris getting seats on Vimpelcom board

Reuters , Wednesday 20 Apr 2011

the move will infuriate Telenor, which fought a long battle to protect its Vimpelcom powerbase from being eroded as a result of the deal

(Photo: Reuters)

Vimpelcom's key Russian shareholder Altimo expects the telecoms group's new co-owner Naguib Sawiris to get as many seats on board as Altimo itself and Norway's Telenor, Altimo's CEO said on Wednesday.

The move is certain to infuriate Telenor, which fought a long battle to protect its Vimpelcom powerbase from being eroded as a result of the deal that brought Sawiris on board.

Egyptian tycoon Sawiris became a 30.6 per cent Vimpelcom shareholder last week after Russia's No.3 mobile phone operator closed a more than $6 billion deal for Wind Telecom, including Orascom Telecom and Italy's Wind.

Altimo then surprised the market by saying it would trigger the termination of its 2009 shareholders agreement with Telenor to allow Sawiris roughly equal rights in Vimpelcom, something Telenor had fought to avoid in a futile attempt to block the deal earlier this year.

"We think that the representation will be nearly equal. For example, there could be three directors (nominated) by each (of the big shareholders), and three independent directors," Altimo's Chief Executive Alexei Reznikovich told reporters.

"In the future, whether there will be a shareholders agreement or not, there must be at least three independent directors," Reznikovich said, adding the board's chairman will have a "casting vote."

Altimo, part of Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman's business empire Alfa Group, said on Friday it would annul the agreement by selling some of Vimpelcom's preferred shares.

"We plan for the sale to take place soon. One month, two, half a year -- I don't exactly know. There will be no buyback option (for Altimo)," Reznikovich said.

He added Altimo was not considering selling the shares to Telenor or Sawiris and was likely to sell the stake on the open market or to financial investors.


The termination of the shareholder agreement between Altimo and Telenor -- signed as part of a peace deal between the feuding partners after a years-long board and courtroom battle -- is expected to bring down the curtain on an uneasy truce.

"Some say we have strained relations with Telenor -- I don't think so," Reznikovich said, adding he was "absolutely happy" with Telenor as a partner in Vimpelcom.

"Telenor has contributed a lot to the (Wind) deal with its criticism, which allowed us to improve conditions of the deal for Vimpelcom... In the view of Telenor's participation in the supervisory board of Vimpelcom, its expertise will be useful for the new company," he said.

Telenor, which saw its stake fall to 25 per cent from 36 per cent as part of the deal, is currently pursuing an arbitration, trying to restore its pre-emptive rights to new Vimpelcom shares issued as part of the deal with Sawiris.

Short link: