By Aasa Christine Stoltz
OSLO, June 23 (Reuters) - Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday that Norwegian telecom group Telenor’s (TEL.OL) multi-billion-dollar legal battle in Russia must be solved by the Russian justice system.
Russian bailiffs are moving closer to selling Telenor’s shares in mobile firm Vimpelcom VIP.N to cover a $1.7 billion award made by a Siberian court against Telenor for allegedly delaying Vimpelcom’s entry into Ukraine. [nLJ385090]
Telenor has repeatedly said the claim was without any merit, that it hurts Russia’s image abroad and has demanded the appeals process run its course before its shares are auctioned off.
“We’ll continue to express support for Telenor’s main stance, but this is a dispute between private companies that has to be solved by the justice system,” Stoltenberg told a news conference when asked how his government can help Telenor.
Norway’s industry minister has called the Telenor case the most important bilateral issue between Oslo and Moscow and Stoltenberg met with Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev last month to discuss the case.
Stoltenberg said he had “very good and thorough” discussions with the Russian leaders but since the talks took place Russian bailiffs have nevertheless pressed ahead with the sale of Telenor’s near 30 percent stake in Vimpelcom.
Asked if the Telenor case affected his view on doing business in Russia, Stoltenberg said: “I will not give any general investment advice towards Russia. Each company has to evaluate the risk of investing in a country like Russia.”
Telenor sees the legal action as being part of its protracted dispute with Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman’s Alfa Group, the other big Vimpelcom shareholder with which it has had many court and boardroom battles in recent years.
Alfa has denied any link to Farimex, a tiny Vimpelcom shareholder behind the Siberian lawsuit, but analysts say they believe the contested case is a manoeuvre linked to high-stakes talks between the two companies.
(Writing by Wojciech Moskwa; Editing by Greg Mahlich)
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