Russia's Alfa Group and L1 reported entering Brazilian telecom market

By bne IntelliNews October 27, 2015

The investment holding LetterOne (L1) of Alfa Group controlled by Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman is looking to invest in the Brazilian telecom market, the Wall Street Journal reported on October 26.

L1 is expected to invest $4bn in local telecom operator Oi, currently controlled by Brazilian development bank BNDES and billionaire André Esteves, also a helmer of financial firm BTG Pactual.

Oi is the fourth largest operator in Brazil and is currently considering merging with TIM Participacoes, a local subsidiary of Telecom Italia. A merged company could become the second largest telecom major in Brazil.

L1 was set up following Alfa's exit from the Russian-British joint venture TNK BP to hold the $14bn share of the $28bn the group earned from selling its stake to Russia's state-owned Rosneft. Fridman has since been looking for oil, gas and telecom assets to buy, as long as they are outside Russia.

In March 2015, the fund through its subsidiary Alfa Telecom Turkey bid $2.8bn for 13.76% stake in Turkey’s largest GSM operator Turkcell from the cash-strapped Turkish conglomerate Cukurova Holding.

Alfa Telecom Turkey applied on September 7 to the Turkish competition authority to take over control of Turkcell from Cukurova, according to an official announcement on the authority's website.

Under a complex shareholding structure, Fridman's Alfa Group holds a 13.2% stake in Turkcell, Karamehmet's Cukurova Holding controls 13.8% and Sweden's TeliaSonera holds 38%, while 35.88% of the company's shares are traded on the Istanbul Stock Exchange.

On the Russian market, Norwegian telecom major Telenor said on October 5  it will sell its $2.4bn or 33% stake in Russian wireless provider VimpelCom, co-owned by Fridman.

"The VimpelCom asset, where Telenor holds a minority position without the possibility to fully control the company, has been challenging," Telenor chairman Svein Aaser said in a statement. The company said it expects the sale process to "take some time".

Telenor and Altimo (used to accumulate telecom assets of Alfa) have been locked in one of the longest conflicts in Russian corporate history for control of VimpelCom. The conflict escalated in 2011, when Telenor protested Vimpelcom's deal with Egyptian holding Weather Investments.

In August 2012, Altimo acquired a $3.5bn minority share in VimpelCom, increasing its ownership stake to 48% and ending a decade-long struggle between Altimo and Telenor for control of the company.

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