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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Alfa Calls Meeting to Thwart Telenor

Alfa Group has called a shareholders' meeting of the country's No. 2 mobile phone firm VimpelCom to discuss its expansion in Ukraine, a plan opposed by another investor, Norway's Telenor.

"We think that all shareholders must voice their opinions on the matter," Alexei Reznikovich, board member at Alfa Telecom, the telecoms investment arm of holding company Alfa, told a news conference on Tuesday.

Alfa has also asked a court to declare invalid an article in VimpelCom's charter which says the board approves major decisions only by a supermajority, or 80 percent of its votes.

Alfa wants VimpelCom to buy a small Ukrainian company, Ukrainian RadioSystems, for $200 million in order to expand out of the maturing Russian market. But Telenor, which is a big shareholder in VimpelCom and holds a 56.5 percent stake in Ukraine's second-biggest mobile phone firm Kyivstar, opposes the purchase of Ukrainian RadioSystems, saying the deal is not feasible economically.

Alfa holds the remaining shares in Kyivstar.

Alfa has recently tried and failed to push the acquisition through VimpelCom's nine-seat board, where three directors represent Alfa, three represent Telenor and three are independent.

In April, the Supreme Court upheld a local court's decision in favor of calling the supermajority rule invalid after a suit from a VimpelCom shareholder with just two shares.

But Telenor filed a complaint and the shareholder withdrew the suit.

At a shareholders' meeting, Alfa would need a simple majority to push the Ukrainian issue through.

VimpelCom's key rival, Mobile TeleSystems, has operations in Ukraine, Belarus and Uzbekistan. Outside Russia, VimpelCom only operates in Kazakhstan.

Alfa Telecom managing director Pavel Kulikov said Alfa had suggested that the shareholders' meeting, to be held in the second half of June, discuss a $500 million investment in Ukrainian RadioSystems in the next 10 years.

Analysts have said the best solution for VimpelCom would be a merger between it and Kyivstar. Telenor has said it could agree to the merger only if it controls the new firm. It cannot control it now with current holdings in Kyivstar and VimpelCom.

Last week, Telenor asked Russian authorities for permission to boost its 26.6 percent stake in VimpelCom to up to 45 percent -- short of outright control but enough to put another representative on the board.

Alfa Telecom has recently placed 8.9 percent of its VimpelCom shares in collateral against a loan and put the remaining 24 percent in an escrow account at the Bank of New York.

The moves prompted rumors that Alfa could be angling to swap all its CIS telecoms assets for a stake in Telenor.

Alfa officials said the swap, as well as a merger between VimpelCom and Kyivstar, was one scenario under consideration. "This is one of the many options which has pluses and minuses," Kulikov said.