UPDATE 1-Virgin seeks Russian mobile phone partner

Wed Oct 31, 2012 1:04pm EDT

By Sonia Elks and Maria Kiselyova

MOSCOW Oct 31 (Reuters) - Virgin Group is talking to Russian mobile phone companies as possible partners to use the Virgin brand in the world's biggest country, British businessman Richard Branson said on Wednesday.

Virgin could invest up to $1 billion in Russia-focused businesses if the telecoms venture and plans for flights to Moscow go ahead, Branson told Reuters on the sidelines of an innovation conference in Moscow.

Virgin is seeking an MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) agreement with a local partner, Branson said.

"We use their networks, and they use our brand," Branson said. "It has worked really well in other countries and we think it will work well in Russia."

Branson said he has had positive discussions with officials regarding flying to Moscow following a recent refusal to grant slots and hopes to "know where we stand by the end of the year."

Branson's Virgin Atlantic brand, which is 51-percent owned by the Virgin Group and 49-percent owned by Singapore Airlines , was refused the twice-daily London-Moscow slots by the Civil Aviation Authority earlier in October. The slots were awarded to budget carrier easyJet.

"I'm hoping that Virgin Atlantic will get up and fly here next year, but we are waiting for feedback," Branson said.

Virgin earlier on Wednesday said it formed a $200 million fund, together with Russian state-backed technology fund Rusnano, to invest in energy efficiency projects.

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