UPDATE 2-Russia's VTB turns quick profit with Tele2 Russia deal
* VTB flips Tele2 Russia after six months
* Selling 50 pct stake to investors including Bank Rossiya
* Buyers have background in media investment
By Megan Davies
MOSCOW, Oct 17 (Reuters) - Russian bank VTB has agreed to sell 50 percent of Tele2 Russia, turning a quick profit and gaining investors with the expertise that could help it to challenge the dominance of Russia's big three mobile phone operators.
VTB bought Russia's fourth-largest mobile operator from Sweden's Tele2 in April for $3.55 billion.
"It has been a profitable investment for us and we will stay as equal partners," Yuri Soloviev, first deputy president of VTB's management board, told Reuters.
Soloviev declined to name the sale price, which has been put at $2 billion, including assumed debt, based on the price at which VTB has valued the stake on its books.
VTB is selling half to a group of investors including affiliates of Bank Rossiya and entities of Alexei Mordashov, a billionaire tycoon who controls steelmaker Severstal.
"Through the sale of 50 percent we get very experienced people in the TMT (technology, media and telecoms) sector, (who) have invested in a number of assets such as TV channels, content producers, cable companies," Soloviev said.
"We de-risk the position, we make some money on structuring the deal and we get a very strong partner in Russia."
Bank Rossiya is part-owned and chaired by Yuri Kovalchuk, an old acquaintance of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kovalchuk and Mordashov have a background in media investments, combining their media assets in 2008 to create National Media Group (NMG).
Retaining VTB as an owner could help Tele2 Russia's lobbying effort to obtain a licence to provide high-speed 4G services.
At a competitive disadvantage since losing a 4G licence tender last year, it has argued for technology neutrality to allow faster internet speeds on its existing radio band.
The Tele2 deal is seen by analysts as likely to lead to an eventual tie-up with state-controlled rival Rostelecom , Russia's fifth-largest mobile operator, and challenge the top three of MTS, Megafon and VimpelCom.
Tele2 Russia's new owners have links to Rostelecom. In 2011 NMG sold its stake in cable TV company National Telecommunications to Rostelecom. The former chief of the cable company, Sergei Kalugin, became CEO of Rostelecom.
VTB's Soloviev said the bank aims to increase Tele2 Russia's presence in the market and widen its product range through licences or joint ventures. He said it is already in talks with possible partners, including Rostelecom.
- Air strike kills 15 civilians in Yemen by mistake: officials
- North Korea executes leader's powerful uncle in rare public purge |
- Twitter backtracks on block feature after users revolt
- Insight: In Yemen, al Qaeda gains sympathy amid U.S. drone strikes
- Pope attacks mega-salaries and wealth gap in peace message