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Russia wants Vimpelcom row settled: report

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MOSCOW, Jun 13 (Reuters) - Russia's antitrust watchdog is pushing for an out-of-court settlement between the shareholders of Vimpelcom, who are fighting for control of Russia's No.3 mobile operator, Interfax quoted the regulator as saying on Wednesday.

Norway's Telenor raised its stake in Vimpelcom in February, triggering a new wave of hostilities with co-owner Altimo and prompting Vimpelcom to defer dividend payments.

"We are not giving up hope to settle the conflict ... in a peaceful way, by means of talks between the companies," Igor Artemyev, head of the Federal Anti-monopoly Service (FAS), was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.

"And we have instruction from the government commission on foreign investments to contribute in every possible way to negotiations between the companies in order to settle this outside the court," said Artemyev.

Artemyev said previously the powerful government commission, which is chaired by Russian President Vladimir Putin and has sweeping authority over foreign investment in Russian companies, had supported a bid by FAS to overturn the deal.

Telenor boosted its voting stake in Vimpelcom to 36.36 percent in mid-February, taking back partial control of the company from Altimo, the telecoms arm of Mikhail Fridman's Alfa-Group, with which it has fought a years-long corporate battle.

FAS opposed the deal and filed a lawsuit in a Moscow court in April, alleging it violated the Russian Strategic Investment Law.

As a result of the lawsuit, the court ordered Vimpelcom's Russian unit - a key source of its revenues - to temporarily stop distributing profits, and the telecoms group decided to defer dividend payments to preserve cash.

Altimo claimed in a letter to Vimpelcom earlier in June that Telenor and Weather formed a "group" owning a more than 50 percent voting interest in Vimpelcom via their deal in February and should have offered a buyout of other shareholders.

Telenor said on Wednesday it had asked the Supreme Court of Bermuda to declare that its purchase of Vimpelcom shares from Weather did not trigger a mandatory buyout requirement.

Altimo declined to comment on both FAS's statement and Telenor's claim.

Telenor's spokesman Dag Melgaard said Telenor was "open to an out of court settlement" in connection with the FAS lawsuit.

"We have already met once with FAS to explain our position and we are ready to meet with them again if they so wish. We would be very pleased to reach an out of court agreement," said Melgaard.

"The other issue is Altimo's letter sent to Vimpelcom ... The allegations are so serious that we think it should be a court making a legal qualification and the opinion of a subcommittee of the supervisory board is not enough," he added.

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