Russian mobile market leader Mobile TeleSystems (MTS) may secure control over Kyrgyzstan’s largest cellco Bitel ‘soon’, according to sources close to the deal. MTS did not confirm that the deal was near to completion, but did state that it wanted to purchase Bitel. The Kyrgz operator, valued at between USD150 million and USD200 million, has an estimated 440,000 mobile subscribers. Its ownership has been challenged in courts several times this year. In April, a Kyrgz judge declared Fellowes, a subsidiary of Russia’s Alfa Group, to be Bitel’s 100% owner, before a UK court rejected its ownership following an appeal by Bitel’s former owner, Kazakhstan’s Alliance Group. Late last month, the Justice Ministry of Kyrgyzstan re-registered 100% of Bitel’s shares to Russian company Rezervspetsmet; two more courts subsequently upheld the decision under challenges from Alliance Group and Bitel’s management.
If its bid for Bitel falls through, MTS has its eye on plenty of other cellcos in CIS countries. It is interested in entering the markets in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova and Tajikistan.