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* Postponement at Vimpelcom shareholder Farimex’s request
* Hearing to resume on March 24, 2010
(Adds Telenor CEO comment, share price, background)
By Maria Kiselyova
MOSCOW, Sept 30 (Reuters) - An appeal by Telenor (TEL.OL) against a $1.7 billion fine was adjourned until March by a Siberian court, giving the Norwegian telecoms company and its Russian partner Alfa six months to sort out their differences.
Wednesday’s adjournment came a day after Telenor chief executive Jon Fredrik Baksaas met Russia’s most influential politician, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Telenor shares, which hit a 51-week high in early trading, were up 0.4 percent at 66.95 crowns at 1000 GMT, outpacing a 0.2 percent fall on the Dow Jones Stoxx Telecom index .SXKP.
The fine, payable to Vimpelcom VIP.N, Russia’s second biggest mobile operator, was imposed last year after Farimex, a small shareholder, filed a suit saying Vimpelcom had been damaged by Telenor’s reluctance to expand into Ukraine.
Telenor and Alfa, controlled by Mikhail Fridman, are the biggest shareholders in both Vimpelcom and Kyivstar, the leading mobile operator in Ukraine.
Telenor believes Farimex has been acting on behalf of Alfa, and the legal process is widely seen as a tool to put pressure on Telenor in talks over the fate of their joint investments.
Alfa denies being connected to Farimex.
Telenor owns 29.9 percent of Vimpelcom’s voting shares. Most of that stake has been seized as security by Russian bailiffs who are threatening to sell the shares to pay the fine before the appeal is concluded. [ID:nLJ385090]
The Telenor case is being closely watched by investors who are sceptical the stake will be sold but fear it could undermine confidence and asset values if a foreign company, part owned by a European state, was stripped of a prime asset.
Putin was due to chair a government commission on foreign investments on Wednesday.
Analysts have said the most likely resolution would be a corporate divorce giving Alfa’s 43 percent stake in Kyivstar to Telenor, with Alfa gaining Telenor’s voting shares in Vimpelcom.
“It’s too early to comment. The news came only an hour ago,” Baksaas said on Wednesday on the sidelines of an investment conference in Moscow, adding he had nothing new to say about talks with Alfa Group. “We are always meeting (with Alfa).”
Wednesday’s court adjournment until March 24 was granted after a motion from Farimex which wants to know the decision in a lawsuit launched in New York last year to establish whether there is a relationship between it and Alfa, Telenor said. (Reporting by Maria Kiselyova and Dmitry Sergeyev; Additional reporting by Wojciech Moskwa in Oslo; Writing by Maria Kiselyova and Dmitry Zhdannikov; Editing by Dan Lalor)