Russian tycoon Usmanov exits VK internet major, Gazprom-related firms get 46%

By bne IntelliNews December 3, 2021

USM Holdings of Russian tycoon Alisher Usmanov approved selling its 45% stake in MF Technologies, a structure controlling a 57.3% voting stake and a 4.8% economic stake in VK (former Mail.ru) internet major to insurance company Sogaz for an undisclosed amount.

The shares of VK have jumped 6.6% on the news that the company will now have shareholders closely affiliated with the state.

Sogaz is affiliated with state natural gas giant Gazprom and will now indirectly control 25.8% of voting shares and a 2.2% economic interest in VK, one of the major digital players in the Russian economy.

Apart from 23% stake in Sogaz of Gazprom, another major shareholder in Sogaz (35%) is Yuri Kovalchuk of Kremlin-Rossiya Bank, as well as the son of Vladimir Putin's cousin, Mikhail Shelomov (13.4%).

USM will also sell another 9% in MFT to Gazprom-affiliated entity Gazprombank. Gazprombank most recently bought a 36% stake in MFT from Sberbank for RUB12.8bn ($174mn). In total, Sogaz and Gazprombank are going to end up holding 46.4% of voting shares and a 3.9% economic interest in VK.

For USM, which focuses on mining, telecoms and technology, exiting VK is a logical decision, as three years ago Usmanov's holding had already handed over control of his share to VK’s management. 

Previously USM also announced selling off IT engineering company ICS Holding to its founders.

"At this stage it remains unclear how involved Sogaz is planning to be in VK’s strategy and governance," the analysts note.

While the amount of the deal is undisclosed, the Sogaz chairman Alexey Miller (and the head of Gazprom) told Bloomberg that the strategic investment deal was closed at market terms.

VK’s one of the main assets is Vkontakte - Russia's largest social network, having been founded by Internet guru Pavel Durov in 2006.

The businessmen worked as the company's director-general but was fired in April 2014. Shortly before he left Durov sold 11.99% of his shares to mobile operator's Megaphone's CEO Ivan Tavrin. Tavrin later sold his stake to Mail.ru Group, controlled by billionaire Alisher Usmanov, who owned almost 40% of VKontakte. 

Mail.ru Group also acquired the VKontakte share from UCP fund and became the sole shareholder of the social network and its main asset since.  This year Mail.ru rebranded into VK in an apparent ecosystem development drive, after reiterating its commitment to maintaining social network's market leadership.

The analysts surveyed by The Bell believe that the new shareholders of VK could reshuffle the board and the management of the internet major, while Sberbank will attempt to maintain the joint ventures with VK.

Notably, Sogaz, Gazprombank and Gazprom have strong media asset in Gazprom Media group and National Media Group, which control Russia's largest TV stations, newspapers, cable networks, and streaming services Premiere and Rutube. Possible synergies are possible with VK in this segment.

Usmanov exits VK while it is in good shape, and so that USM can focus on its core businesses that include mining, green technology, telecoms and IT, a source in the company told bne IntelliNews. 

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