* Vimpelcom CEO in talks with Algeria on Djezzy
* Kremlin fails to get public Algerian pledge on Vimpelcom
* Kremlin chief had sought Algeria’s help on Djezzy deal
* Vimpelcom would consider Djezzy sale “if Algeria insists”
* S&P puts B- rating on Orascom Telecom
(Recasts, adds details, comments from Vimpelcom CEO)
By Denis Dyomkin
ALGIERS, Oct 6 (Reuters) - President Dmitry Medvedev failed to get a public pledge from Algeria on Wednesday that the north African nation’s biggest mobile phone operator would be part of an ambitious acquisition planned by Russia’s Vimpelcom.
On the line is Vimpelcom’s bid to become the world’s fifth-largest mobile phone operator and enter the developed European market by buying control of Egyptian tycoon Naguib Sawiris’s telecoms assets for $6.6 billion.
The jewel in the crown of the proposed deal is Orascom Telecom’s Algerian unit Djezzy, its biggest revenue earner, which Algeria’s government is trying to nationalise.
“We agreed that we will look at investment projects in a whole number of sectors,” Medvedev told reporters at a joint briefing with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who could sanction the sale of Dzezzy.
“I hope we can cooperate on a host of new projects which we spoke about with the president,” Medvedev said.
Medvedev was asked only two questions during the 15-minute briefing in Algiers, neither of which related to Vimpelcom or Orascom’s disputed Djezzy unit. Medvedev mentioned neither company and Bouteflika remained silent during the briefing.
Vimpelcom’s CEO Alexander Izosimov, who travelled with Medvedev’s delegation, said he would have a meeting with officials from Algeria’s Finance Ministry to discuss the fate of Djezzy, but there was no word on the results of those talks.
Before the talks, Izosimov had said that Vimpelcom would consider selling Djezzy to the Algerian state “if the Algerian government insists”.
“I am ready to raise this question because it is a big investment, one of the biggest Russian investments in the Algerian economy,” he told reporters in Algiers. Izosimov is set to leave Algiers on Thursday morning.
Algerian law gives the government the right to block any sale of Djezzy to a foreign firm, and the trip was seen as a test of Medvedev’s ability to do the mega deals for Russian business that are the hallmark of his patron, former president Vladimir Putin, now prime minister.
Algeria has already rejected approaches from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and South African President Jacob Zuma to sanction the sale of Djezzy to South Africa’s MTN and has said it would make an offer for the unit within months.
Medvedev, also accompanied by Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman, whose Alfa-Group owns 40 percent of Vimpelcom, was expected to have a better chance of ending uncertainty over Djezzy with Sawiris out of the frame.
Tensions between the Algerian government and the Sawiris family go back to 2008, when Orascom Construction Industries, led by Sawiris’s brother Nassef, sold its Algerian cement business to France’s Lafarge.
Algeria has fraught ties with France, its former colonial ruler, and Algiers felt it should have been consulted.
When asked whether Medvedev’s trip to Algiers would improve things for Djezzy, Sawiris said: “Yes, definitely.”
“I‘m sure he’s going to raise the subject, and he’s going to try and help improve the circumstances under which Djezzy operates,” he said in a phone interview, adding that the deal had a 90 percent chance of going through.
With no break fees on the deal, either side could walk away from the agreement without financial penalty.
Vimpelcom already has offers of financing from Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank and UBS, advisers on the transaction, and four or five other lenders, banking sources said.
The company is looking at a loan of $6-7 billion, part of which could be taken out with a bond. The debt would cover some of the cash portion of the acquisition and might also refinance existing facilities, the sources said.
Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s placed Orascom on B- with a positive creditwatch on Wednesday, saying the potential change of control meant some facilities might need to be refinanced.
For Vimpelcom, the Orascom acquisition marks a major expansion into Asia, North Africa and the developed European market.
A source familiar with the matter said Vimpelcom’s offer already factored in the risks associated with Algeria.
“Djezzy is important, but it is not a condition of the transaction closing. The package of assets is the attractive thing for Vimpelcom,” the person said.
Russia’s TNK-BP is interested in buying oil major BP’s Algeria assets, Russia’s Energy Minister said on the trip, but added that a deal was not expected in the next two months. (Additional reporting by Alexander Dziadosz in Cairo, John Bowker and Maria Kiselyova in Moscow, Victoria Howley, Christian Lowe and Alasdair Reilly in London, Denis Dyomkin in Algiers; writing by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Lin Noueihed and Will Waterman)