Vimpelcom has confirmed that its warring shareholders, Telenor of Norway and Alfa Group-owned Altimo, have agreed to abide by their long-standing shareholder agreement until an arbitration panel is able to rule whether or not Alfa’s controversial move to end the deal was legal. The pact was due to expire on 10 December, after Altimo cut its Vimpelcom stake below 25% in June this year, effectively voiding the shareholder deal and potentially paving the way for a long-rumoured board reshuffle. Reuters, citing a US regulatory filing submitted by the Russian telecoms giant, quotes Vimpelcom as saying: ‘The Tribunal’s determination of whether the Shareholders Agreement terminates on 10 December is suspended until such time as the Tribunal issues its final determination on the merits’.
Last month, Telenor has claimed that the June sale of Vimpelcom preferred shares to a Cyprus-based company owned by Alfa Group founder Oleg Kiselev was illegal. The temporary truce may signify a wide-scale cessation in hostilities between the feuding shareholders; last week it was confirmed that Telenor VP Jan Edvard Thygesen, who oversees its central and eastern European operations, will join Vimpelcom as deputy CEO and chief operating officer on January 1 2012 as deputy CEO and chief operating officer, potentially strengthening the increasingly fragile bond between Telenor and its fellow shareholders.
As previously reported by TeleGeography’s CommsUpdate, in April 2011 Altimo said it wanted to give Egyptian telecoms entrepreneur – and new Vimpelcom shareholder – Naguib Sawiris a seat on the Russian firm’s board, a move that required it to end its deal with Telenor. The admission was made just hours after Vimpelcom completed its long-running USD6.5 billion merger with the telecoms assets of Sawiris, which was strongly opposed by Telenor. Despite the Norwegian firm’s claims of illegality, Altimo continues to deny any connection to Kiselev. For his part, the Russian businessman indicated that he is ‘interested’ in holding on to his controversial stake.