The head of Russia’s competition watchdog, Igor Artemyev, has spoken out again against conglomerate Alfa Group’s mobile holdings, saying he would like to see the investment firm offload its stake in either Vimpelcom or MegaFon, Dow Jones Newswires reports. As reported by CommsUpdate on 22 January 2010, Artemyev voiced his opposition to plans for Altimo – Alfa’s telecoms arm – to merge its holdings in MegaFon and Turkcell with those of Swedish group TeliaSonera, until it has completed a similar deal with Norway’s Telenor. Alfa responded by saying that, unlike the Telenor-Vimpelcom deal (which will see Vimpelcom merge with Ukrainian cellco Kyivstar and relocate to the Netherlands), the agreement with TeliaSonera solely entails stock ownership and will not see MegaFon merge with Turkcell. Artemyev has now suggested that Alfa’s stakes in two of the countries top three cellular operators by subscribers could be anti-competitive. He told reporters: ‘If it happens that Altimo decides to sell out of MegaFon or Vimpelcom, then we will be glad. There are only three major operators and Altimo has a stake in two of them.’
On 15 January CommsUpdate reported that state-owned conglomerate Svyazinvest is considering a bid for MegaFon, with local dailies reporting that Communications and IT Minister Igor Shchyogolev had said that the firm was in talks with Alisher Usmanov to purchase the oligarch’s 31.1% stake in the cellco. Shchyogolev added that as a state-controlled entity it would require a controlling stake in MegaFon, which would entail additional share purchases from either TeliaSonera (which has a 35.6% stake) or Alfa Group (25.1%). However, both companies distanced themselves from a sale, saying that they are not planning to reduce their stakes in MegaFon for the foreseeable future.