MegaFon Accused of Illegal Expansion

APMedvedev looking at photos of graduates of St. Petersburg State University's law department during a visit Saturday.
TBILISI, Georgia -- Tbilisi accused MegaFon of illegally expanding its network into Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia on Friday.

Georgia's National Communications Commission said MegaFon was carrying out illegal activities on its territory and must pay a fine of $3,500 within 30 days.

MegaFon, Russia's No. 3 mobile operator, denied that it operated on Georgian territory and said it could not stop people from accessing its services from base stations in nearby Russian regions.

"In villages ... the population has been using MegaFon company sim cards, in particular MegaFon Northern Caucasus, since 2005," the Georgian telecoms regulator said on its web site.

"The work of MegaFon without a license on the territory of Georgia may be considered a criminal activity," it said.

A MegaFon spokeswoman confirmed that the company had received a notice from the Georgian authorities and said lawyers were studying it.

"We are not carrying out any commercial activities in Georgia," said spokeswoman Marina Belasheva.

Asked to explain how people in South Ossetia were using MegaFon services, she said it was "impossible to limit the transmission of base stations in a way that matches the border."

The MegaFon allegation came days after Georgian troops briefly detained a group of Russian peacekeepers.

President Dmitry Medvedev said Saturday that Russia wanted a negotiated end to territorial disputes in Georgia but would not tolerate attempts to stir up its peacekeeping troops. "Georgia is a close neighbor. Existing disputes, including the territorial problem, should be resolved through bilateral negotiations," he told law students at St. Petersburg State University, his alma mater.