28 Apr 2010 17:58

Alfa Group pledges MegaFon blocking stake to VEB to free up VimpleCom shares

MOSCOW. April 28 (Interfax) - Altimo, which manages the telecommunications assets of Alfa Group, has switched the collateral on a $1.5-billion loan from Vnesheconombank (VEB) to a 25.1% stake in MegaFon , freeing up the 44% stake in VimpelCom that secured the loan previously.

The VimpelCom shares were recovered on April 16, according to an April 20 disclosure to the U.S. SEC by Altimo's Eco Telecom, which raised the VEB loan. At that time it was not disclosed that the MegaFon shares were being used to secure the loan.

VEB's Yekaterina Karasina confirmed to Interfax that the collateral had been switched. The deal was approved by VEB's supervisory board. The new security is sufficient to cover the value of the loan, Karasina said.

Altimo's Yevgeny Dumalkin declined to comment.

It is not the first time Altimo has used the MegaFon stake to secure a loan. In 2009 Altimo used a portion of the stake to secure a loan from Alfa Bank . The exact size of the loan was not disclosed, but it did not exceed $400 million.

The Alfa Bank loan is currently unsecured and will remain so. "The fact the 25.1% MegaFon stake is securing the VEB loan and not Vimpelcom Ltd is for purely technical reasons," a source close to MegaFon shareholders told Interfax.

Alexei Zotov, Alfa Bank's director for major corporate business, told Interfax the collateral has been released, that the Altimo credit has been partially repaid and the remaining principal is unsecured.

VEB provided a loan of $2 billion to Eco Telecom in October 2008 to repay a loan from Deutsche Bank secured with 44% of VimpelCom shares. Eco Telecom later made a partial repayment totaling $500 million, but the collateral remained unchanged.

Altimo and the other major shareholder in VimpelCom and Ukraine's Kyivstar - Norwegian Telenor - announced a merger of the two companies into Vimpelcom Ltd last fall. Vimpelcom Ltd American Depositary Receipts (ADR) began trading on the NYSE on April 22. VEB agreed to allow Altimo to contribute the pledged shares to the new structure, bank chief Vladimir Dmitriev said.