Armed police storm Bitel’s headquarters

16 Dec 2005

Dozens of armed police raided the offices of Kyrgyzstan’s largest mobile operator Bitel yesterday, shutting down the company’s network for five hours. The events came amid a raging ownership dispute between Russian mobile operator Mobile TeleSystems (MTS), which claimed earlier this week to have bought a controlling stake in Bitel, and Russian-registered company Rezervspetsmet. MTS reportedly bought a 51% share of the Kyrgyz cellco from Kazakh finance house Alliance Capital for USD150 million on Monday, but Rezervspetsmet claimed a decision on Wednesday by the Kyrgyz Supreme Court gave it ownership rights and said it was behind the raid, which saw police and special forces storming Bitel’s headquarters and arresting a senior manager and an MTS official. Rezervspetsmet has been linked to Russian conglomerate the Alfa Group, although Alfa – blamed by MTS for the raid – denies any affiliation. A spokesman for Alliance Capital said that Bitel’s GSM network went down five minutes after the break-in. MTS said that it would not ask Alliance for its money back and added that it was considering launching legal action in Russia against Alfa, a major shareholder in MTS’s biggest rival, Vimpelcom.

Kyrgyzstan, Mobile TeleSystems (MTS), Sky Mobile (Beeline)