Russia's Alfa Group reportedly shuns greater stake in Turkcell mobile operator

By bne IntelliNews November 29, 2016

Russia's Alfa Group, controlled by billionaire Mikhail Fridman, did not exercise its option to acquire a controlling stake in Turkcell mobile operator before its expiry on November 28, Bloomberg reports, citing unnamed sources close to the deal.

LetterOne (L1, former Altimo, telecom investment branch of Alfa) was close to resolving a 10-year-long corporate stalemate with the Turkish Cukurova group over control of Turkcell, with a joint venture of the two companies (51% Cukurova and 49% Altimo) buying 53% in Turkcell in 2005 for $1.59bn.

Altimo also lent $1.7bn to Cukurova, with the loan secured by 51% in the joint venture, and it later accused Cukurova of breaching the agreement. This eventually led to a court decision in London obliging Cukurova to either buy out Altimo's (now L1) stake in Turkcell for $2.7bn or sell its stake to Altimo for $2.8bn.

Reportedly, Cukurova missed the deadline to either buy or sell the stake, and it was up to Fridman now to act until November 28. Bloomberg previously reported that Alfa could move to buy out a 13.8% stake in Turkcell from Cukurova.

Analysts surveyed by Vedomosti on November 8 estimated that Alfa's LetterOne Technology investment vehicle (L1, former Altimo) had enough funds to buy out the stake in Turkcell.

Unnamed sources familiar with Alfa Group management told the daily that the investment group leveraged the support of state-controlled VTB Bank to solve the corporate conflict on the state level, which could be linked to Cukurova missing the important deadline.

In the third quarter of 2016, Turkcell had 66.7mn subscribers in Turkey, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldavia, Germany, Ukraine, and Cyprus, with 34.5mn clients in Turkey alone. The company made $1.2bn in revenues in the third quarter of 2016 with Ebitda of $60mn.

The London-based L1 recently announced the expansion of its telecom portfolio, planning to invest $2bn-$3bn in tech companies in medium to mature development stages. L1 aims to invest in developing technology companies capable of reshaping existing business models while finding synergies with traditional telecom operators, the group said.

Alfa Group holds the largest stake of 47.9% in Vimpelcom, one of the three biggest Russian mobile operators, through L1.

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