MOSCOW Nov 14 Russia's anti-monopoly watchdog has cleared a plan by telecoms operator Rostelecom to buy medium-sized lender Sobinbank, the regulator said on Thursday.
Sobinbank is ranked No. 83 by assets and is a unit of Bank Rossiya of Yuri Kovalchuk, a St Petersburg banker whose association with President Vladimir Putin dates back to the early 1990s and who has business interests in telecoms.
Bank Rossiya recently bought a stake in the country's fourth-biggest mobile phone operator Tele2 Russia and is linked to a possible plan to merge it with Rostelecom's mobile business to create a stronger rival to market leaders MTS, Megafon and Vimpelcom.
Rostelecom said on Thursday it was interested in buying a bank to develop mobile banking, online payments and microfinance services and that it was considering various options.
Bank Rossiya confirmed talks with Rostelecom but declined to elaborate.
Megafon, Russia's second-biggest mobile operator, said in September it was in talks to buy a bank to capitalize on growing interest among consumers in managing their finances on the go and to cross-sell services to existing customers.
MTS already has a stake in a bank it had bought from their parent Sistema to exploit benefits from combining mobile communications and banking. (Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; editing by Douglas Busvine and Tom Pfeiffer)