Court freezes stakes in Vimpelcom

A court in Siberia has frozen Mikhail Fridman's 44% stake in mobile operator Vimpelcom, Fridman's shares are owned through Altimo, a division of his holding company Alfa Group. The court has also Telenor's 29% stake in Vimpelcom.

The timing is not good - the telecoms group is in tricky talks with Deutsche Bank about the early repayment of US$2 billion in bonds, which were pledged with Vimpelcom shares.

Yesterday's court action is part of an ongoing legal battle between Farimax, Altimo and Telenor.

Farimax is owned by one Dmitry Fridman, with whom Mikhail Fridman denies any connection.

In April Farimax sued Altimo and Telenor for failing to fulfil contractual obligations to expand into Ukraine.

The court decided that only Telenor was liable for US$2.8 billion in damages. The Norwegian operator is appealing against the ruling.

Yesterday's freezing of shares was in response to a request by Farimex as a means of ensuring payment.

The Bank is unhappy because Vimpelcom's shares have plummeted in recent weeks, along with much of the rest of the Russian stock market, according to the Financial Times, bringing an early payment clause into play.

The Bank is unlikely to  be reassured by the court's actions.

Altimo pledged its entire 44% stake in Vimpelcom, Russia's second biggest operator, to Deutsche Bank in 2007 as collateral for bonds issued by Eco Telecom.