Sweden’s Tele2 Group has agreed to sell Tele2 Russia to the VTB Group in a cash transaction comprising USD2.4 billion in equity value and USD1.15 billion in net debt; the sale is expected to close shortly. Mats Granryd, president and CEO of Tele2, commented: ‘We have built a very successful Russian mobile business of almost 23 million subscribers, skilled employees and strong profitability, through selective acquisitions and organic growth under a strong brand over the last twelve years. This transaction crystalizes that success. We wish VTB Group well in continuing to build a mobile operator in a significantly developing market. Tele2 will carry on investing in and seizing opportunities that surging mobile data usage is creating in our core markets: Sweden, the Netherlands, Norway and Kazakhstan’. TeleGeography notes that the VTB Group, is a leading Russian financial institution, and its most notable business unit is arguably VTB Bank (formerly known as Vneshtorgbank). In the telecoms sphere, VTB’s interests include a 33.3% stake in Bulgaria’s Vivacom, which it acquired in November 2012.
However, the Russian tycoon Mikhail Fridman may yet throw a spanner in the works. Reuters reports that Fridman’s A1 holding company is preparing to make a counter offer of between USD3.6 billion and USD4 billion for Tele2 Russia. The businessman’s Altimo telecoms unit currently holds a 52.7% controlling stake in Vimpelcom, Russia’s third largest mobile operator by subscribers. Previously, in January 2013 Garsdale Services Investment Limited, which is 82%-owned by Uzbek billionaire Alisher Usmanov and which currently owns stakes in MegaFon and Yota, poured scorn on a report linking MegaFon with a potential ‘carve-up’ of Tele2’s assets. In late 2012 speculation was rife that Tele2, Russia’s only foreign-owned mobile operator, was working towards a merger with state-backed Rostelecom following its failure to secure LTE-suitable frequencies in the government’s controversial tender, although the talks were never substantiated.