New avenue of Ukrainian anti-monopoly investigation centres on Alfa’s Turkcell/Astelit stakes

20 Aug 2010

More details of the investigation by Ukraine’s Antimonopoly Committee (AMCU) into the merger of the market’s leading cellco Kyivstar with Russia’s Vimpelcom have emerged, focusing on new information obtained by the AMCU on Russian Alfa Group’s stake in Ukrainian cellco Astelit – ironically the operator that filed the petition that prompted the inquiry in the first place. As reported by CommsUpdate on Tuesday, the AMCU has accused Alfa’s telecoms investment division Altimo of providing incomplete information on its Ukrainian holdings to the inquiry, but the Committee has now opened a new line of investigation into two other Alfa Group companies – Crown Finance Foundation and CTF Holdings – after it said it received documents showing Alfa had recently raised its stake in Astelit via Turkish parent Turkcell without notification. As quoted by Reuters, the AMCU stated that ‘those documents show that [associated companies of] Alfa Group will control 73% of [Ukraine’s] GSM-900 bandwidth and 68% of GSM-1800 bandwidth.’ Previously, a statement published by the AMCU in April said that the newly formed entity Vimpelcom Ltd held respective 54% and 50% shares of available GSM-900 and GSM-1800 spectrum in Ukraine [via Kyivstar and the twin Beeline Ukraine-branded operators Ukrainian Radio Systems and Golden Telecom].

Interestingly, Ukrainian newspaper says that Astelit withdrew its petition – filed in April – which called for a re-evaluation of mobile market shares based on revenues and spectrum resources following the merger of Alfa and Norwegian group Telenor’s Kyivstar stakes into Vimpelcom Ltd; the AMCU, however, refused to stop the investigation. Last week, the Committee’s head Oleksiy Kostusev promised that it will make its final decision by mid-September 2010, with outcomes likely to include the surrendering of certain frequencies by companies under Vimpelcom control.

Regarding the document apparently proving a change in Turkcell/Astelit ownership, TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database notes that any raising of Alfa’s stake in Astelit will contravene a March 2009 court order brought about by a domestic non-competition clause between Alfa and Telenor (who at the time were fighting for control of Kyivstar). A US judge ordered Alfa to sell a 30.5% stake in Turkcell shareholder Cukurova Holding (of its then-49%) to reduce its interest in the Turkish operator to 4.99% (from 13.2%); Kazakhstan’s Visor Group affiliate Nadash International and Russian oligarch Alexander Mamut’s Henri Services Ltd picked up the Cukurova shares. In November 2009 Alfa and Sweden’s TeliaSonera agreed to combine their holdings in mutual interests Turkcell and MegaFon of Russia in a move that still requires regulatory permission to be completed.

Astelit is 54.8% owned by Turkcell, with the remaining 45.2% held by Ukrainian conglomerate System Capital Management (SCM).

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