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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Altimo Ups Its Stake in VimpelCom

Altimo, the telecoms arm of private equity group Alfa, has raised its stake in the country's No. 2 mobile phone company, VimpelCom, to 43.8 percent from 42.4 percent, a U.S. regulatory filing showed.

The purchase, by Altimo affiliate Eco Telecom, ups the stakes in a battle for control of the VimpelCom board with Norway's Telenor, which has a 29.9 percent holding.

The filing said Eco Telecom intended to raise its stake in VimpelCom to over 44 percent but less than 50 percent, thus removing the requirement for one of Eco Telecom's nominees to the VimpelCom board to be independent.

The two shareholders have been locked in a long battle over VimpelCom's strategic direction, with Telenor opposing a move into the Ukrainian market, where it already controls market leader Kyivstar -- co-owned with Alfa.

Telenor last week petitioned a U.S. court, accusing Alfa Group of illegal insider trading, to ban companies affiliated with Alfa from buying more shares in VimpelCom. Altimo dismissed the allegations as groundless.

Telenor contends that, under a shareholder agreement, it would retain majority control of VimpelCom's nine-member board if Altimo's stake remains between 44 and 50 percent. At 50 percent, a mandatory tender offer to buy out minorities would have to be made and the shareholders' agreement would lapse.

Analysts said the small rise in Altimo's VimpelCom stake was not particularly significant.

"This on its own does not mean anything for Telenor. The company maintains that it has a shareholder agreement that determines things," said Carnegie analyst Espen Torgersen.