Telenor accuses Alfa Group of attempted theft

The long and tortured saga of Telenor in Russia has taken yet another dramatic twist: the Norwegian operator has accused its Russian partner, Alfa Group, of trying to steal its stake in Vimpelcom, Russia's second largest mobile operator, after a Siberian court froze its shares in the company last week.

Telenor owns 29.9% of voting stock in Vimpelcom and 33.6% of ordinary shares, the Financial Times says. Telenor said the court's decision could lead to the stake being sold by the courts to cover the $1.7 billion claim.

This is bad news all round, not just for Telenor, which towards the end of last year was optimistic that the long running legal battle was finally coming to an end. It had recently won a ruling in a New York court that could have seen Alfa Group obliged to pay a total $12 billion over the next year in fines.

This new ruling in Siberia means the whole wretched process will drag on and the longer it goes on, the greater the damage to Russia's reputation as a safe place for overseas investors.

The decision to freeze Telenor's stake came after the company refused to pay a claim for $1.7 billion ordered by the same court last month as part of a ruling in favour of Farimex, a minority shareholder in Vimpelcom. Farimex had accused the Norwegian group of delaying Vimpelcom's entry into the Ukrainian market.

Telenor is appealing the ruling which ordered the $1.7 billion payment and will seek a stay on the freezing of the shares. It has claimed Alfa Group has links with Farimex, which Alfa Group has denied.

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