14 Dec 2010 13:40

No clarity in Vimpelcom's Sawiris deal yet - Fridman

MOSCOW. Dec 14 (Interfax) - There's still no clarity over Vimpelcom Ltd's proposed deal to buy the telecom assets of Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris.

"There's no clarity [over the deal] yet," Mikhail Fridman, core owner of the Alfa Group, which is Vimpelcom's biggest shareholder, told reporters.

Vimpelcom Ltd is a holding set up in April this year to bring together Alfa-Group's and Telenor's Russia- and Ukraine-based cellular assets. The company signed an agreement at the beginning of October to buy Weather Investments, which owns 51.7% of Orascom Telecom and 100% of Wind, from Naguib Sawiris in a deal worth an estimated $6.6 billion, not including debt, which would turn Vimpelcom into the world's fifth biggest mobile communications firm by subscribers.

The deal was originally due to go through in February. The possibility that Algerian provider Djezzy, one of the deal's prime assets, could be nationalized over outstanding tax debts of $230 million is one of the main question marks hanging over the deal. Many market participants doubt the deal will go through at all.

Fridman was unable to say whether Vimpelcom would proceed with a bid for a controlling stake in Serbian fixed-line provider Srbija Telekom if the Sawiris deal falls through. Weather Investments, Vimpelcom and Turcell, in which Alfa also owns an interest, have applied to bid at the Srbija Telekom privatization tender.

The fate of the Sawiris deal should be resolved in two months, Alexei Reznikovich, CEO of Altimo, which owns 44.7% of Vimpelcom, told the Vedomosti newspaper last week.

"We think this will be a good deal if all conditions precedent are met. Of course Vimpelcom and ourselves will do all we can to carry the deal through successfully. But it is unclear whether it will come off for not. This will depend on many factors," Reznikovich told the paper.

Sawiris himself said recently he thought the merger had a "50-50" chance of success. But Vimpelcom chief Alexander Izosimov said at the beginning of December that the company still intended to close the deal and would move ahead as planned.

"We remain committed and continue to move forward as outlined in our October 4th announcement. We are working towards fulfilling all necessary conditions precedent, including obtaining approval of VimpelCom's Supervisory Board and securing the necessary regulatory approvals and anticipate the closing in the first half of 2011," Izosimov said.