April 18, 2012 / 8:01 AM / in 6 years

MegaFon to borrow $2 bln amid talk of stake buy

MOSCOW, April 18 (Reuters) - MegaFon, Russia’s No.2 mobile operator, has agreed to borrow up to $2 billion from a group of banks, following reports it could seek funds to buy back a one-quarter stake owned by oligarch Mikhail Fridman.

MegaFon said on Wednesday it would borrow the money for six months from Citibank, BNP Paribas and Barclays, with an option to extend the loan by another six months.

It did not specify the purpose of the loan, but Vedomosti newspaper reported this week that MegaFon was seeking funds to buy back a 25.1 percent stake owned by Altimo, part of Fridman’s Alfa Group.

Two of the three main shareholders in MegaFon - Altimo and Nordic telecoms firm Teliasonera, which owns 43.8 percent - have confirmed they are in talks on the group’s ownership.

Sources familiar with the matter say billionaire Alisher Usmanov, who owns a 31.1 percent stake, is interested in securing majority control of the company.

The sources say the most cost-effective way for Usmanov to secure control would be for MegaFon, which has $1.5 billion in net cash on its balance sheet, to buy Fridman’s stake, reported to be worth up to $5 billion.

Carrying a prudent amount of debt would also be positive for MegaFon’s tentative plans to launch an initial public offering of shares that could give it a valuation roughly in line with market leader MTS and No.3 Vimpelcom.

Representatives for Usmanov, Fridman and Teliasonera have declined to comment on the ownership talks.

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