Telenor ASA, the biggest Nordic phone company, said it won¹t pay a $1.7 billion fine linked to a Russian court case, after a claim was served by a Norwegian bailiff.
The company has been given five days to voluntarily pay the claim, received today, Fornebu, Norway-based Telenor said in a statement. A court in Omsk, Siberia imposed the fine on Feb. 20, saying Telenor delayed OAO VimpelCom's purchase of a Ukrainian mobile operator.
Telenor is involved in several court battles with Russia's Alfa Group as they fight for control of VimpelCom, Russia's second-largest mobile company, and Ukraine's ZAT Kyivstar GSM. A Russian bailiff last month seized Telenor's 29.9 percent stake in VimpelCom as part of the Omsk court decision. Telenor has appealed the decision.
"We have no intention of honoring such a horrendous claim, which is based on an illegal Russian court ruling," said Jan Edvard Thygesen, who heads Telenor's Russian and eastern European business. "Should our shares in VimpelCom be sold as a result of this, we would regard it as a daylight robbery."
Alfa Group, controlled by billionaire Mikhail Fridman, owns 44 percent of VimpelCom. Farimex Products Inc., which Telenor says is a front for Alfa, brought the suit in Siberia and is entitled to receive the $1.7 billion, according to the claim. Altimo, Alfa's telecommunications unit, has denied any link to Farimex.
Farimex said Telenor-nominated members of VimpelCom¹s board delayed VimpelCom's acquisition in 2005 of unprofitable Ukrainian Radio Systems. Telenor said its representatives opposed the purchase because the company was overvalued, had no credible business plan and the deal lacked transparency.