* Telenor says intent on derailing Wind deal at March 17 EGM
* Will accept outcome of Wind vote and work with Vimpelcom
* Says arguments against Wind resonate with Vimpelcom owners
By Wojciech Moskwa
OSLO, March 9 (Reuters) - Norway’s Telenor (TEL.OL) pledged to work constructively with its estranged partners in Vimpelcom VIP.N even if it fails to block the Russian operator’s $6 billion-plus purchase of Wind Telecom next week.
Telenor, with a 36 percent voting stake in Vimpelcom, faces an uphill battle to gain support from some three-quarters of independent Vimpelcom minority owners to derail the deal with Egyptian tycoon Naguib Sawiris.
Shareholders are due to vote at an extraordinary general meeting on March 17.
Vimpelcom and its main Russian owner, billionaire Mikhail Fridman’s Alfa Group, back the deal that would give Russia’s No. 3 operator all of mobile group Wind Italy and control of emerging markets powerhouse Orascom Telecom ORTE.CA.
Telenor has said the deal made no financial or strategic sense for Vimpelcom, especially due to the weak position of Wind Italy. Vimpelcom this week reasserted that Wind would boost its value. [ID:nN04227305] [ID:nLDE72724W]
“We will remain against the deal and continue to voice our opinion to other shareholders until such time as the... general meeting takes place,” Telenor Senior Vice President Torbjorn Wist said in an article published on Telenor’s website.
“However, if this deal goes through, we will have to accept it and work in the company’s best interests,” he said, adding that Telenor will also continue to pursue a separate arbitration case to secure its rights to maintain its Vimpelcom stake.
Previously, Telenor has sent mixed signals about whether it would be interested in remaining in Vimpelcom long term if its voting clout was clipped by the entry of Sawiris. <^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ FACTBOX-Arguments for and against Sawiris deal [ID:nLDE7270RI] TIMELINE-Vimpelcom’s uneasy partners [ID:nLDE7170BM] ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^>
Wist is heading Telenor’s efforts to meet as many Vimpelcom shareholders as possible and outline why he believes it is in their interest to oppose the Wind deal.
“Many of the investors that we talk to tend not to disclose how they will vote, but the arguments that we are putting forward clearly resonate,” Wist was quoted as saying.
“The most important thing for us is to get people to actually take an active stand against the deal. The worst thing is inertia, where people sit back, thinking it’s a foregone conclusion and don’t bother to vote.”
Telenor’s arbitration case will focus on whether it can take part in Vimpelcom’s share issue for Sawiris.
An arbitrator cannot stop the deal but could allow Telenor to maintain its voting stake and ease its concerns that Vimpelcom was effectively slipping into the control of Fridman and Sawiris.
Editing by Erica Billingham