* May extend share exchange offer if acceptance below 95 pct
* Tender ends Thursday at 2100 GMT
* Telenor says unresolved Farimex issue boosts risk
* Telenor shares up 0.4 percent, in line with peers
(Adds analyst, Farimex case, details)
By Wojciech Moskwa
OSLO, April 15 (Reuters) - Russian mobile group Vimpelcom VIP.N may extend the time period for its shareholders to approve a Ukrainian merger deal if it falls short of the 95 percent acceptance level, Norwegian part-owner Telenor (TEL.OL) said.
The offer to exchange Vimpelcom shares into shares in a new company, Vimpelcom Ltd, which encompasses Ukrainian operator Kyivstar, ends at 2100 GMT on Thursday.
The merger also hinges on Vimpelcom investor Farimex dropping its Russian court cases against Telenor at no additional cost to the Norwegian operator, with the next appeals court meeting set for Friday morning. [ID:nL8554242]
“We are willing to consider extending the offer period if needed,” Telenor spokesman Dag Melgaard said.
“It is not uncommon for offers like these to be prolonged, it is not a dramatic thing to do. Although we would of course like this to be finished as soon as possible,” he said.
Norway’s Telenor and Russia’s Alfa Group have decided to merge their holdings in Vimpelcom and Kyivstar as part of their deal to end a long-running corporate battle. [ID:nL8310134]
In February, Vimpelcom Ltd launched the offer to exchange all shares in Vimpelcom for its own shares or a nominal cash payment, seeking a shareholder acceptance threshold of more than 95 percent which would allow it to buy out remaining owners.
Vimpelcom Ltd has been presenting its case on roadshows in past weeks.
Some 80 percent of investors, excluding Alfa and Telenor, would have to tender their shares to reach the threshold.
“It’s uncertain if they will make it to 95 percent,” said Fondsfinans analyst Arild Nysaether. “There’s not much opposition, it’s mostly a question of reaching out.”
Shares in Telenor were up 0.42 percent to 83.5 crowns by 1352 GMT, against a 0.27 percent rise in the STXE 600 Telecom index .SXKP. Vimpelcom shares were up 3.47 percent at $17.01 in early New York trade.
The Vimpelcom-Kyivstar deal is also contingent on the resolution of the Farimex case which has plagued Telenor-Alfa relations and still threatens the Norwegian company’s holding in the old Vimplecom.
A Siberian court has sided with tiny Vimpelcom investor Farimex and told Telenor to pay Vimpelcom $1.7 billion in damages for its alledged opposition to the Russian company’s expansion into Ukraine, where it would compete with Kyivstar.
Telenor said the case is without merit. However, analysts have said it exposed the risks of investing in Russia.
“As long as the Farimex case is alive, it adds to the uncertainty, which we really don’t like,” said Melgaard.
An appeal in the Farimex case due to be heard in Siberia on Friday, several hours after the expected announcement of whether the offer reached the acceptance threshold.
Some analysts believe that Farimex will drop its case only once Vimpelcom shareholders approve the Kyivstar deal and could be postponed if Vimpelcom extended the tender offer on Friday.
“The court case is the last card that will be relinquished in this game,” said Fondsfinans’ Nysaether. “If they don’t make it to 95 percent, the case will be postponed.” (Editing by Sharon Lindores)