Ukraine's Richest Man Takes Over Top Telecom Firm

KIEV, Ukraine -- A firm owned by Ukraine's richest businessman Rinat Akhmetov said on Wednesday it was buying the former Soviet republic's main fixed-line operator Ukrtelecom UTLM.PFT from Austrian investment firm EPIC for an undisclosed sum.

Rinat Akhmetov

The takeover strengthens the position of Akhmetov, a key ally of President Viktor Yanukovich, as the owner of one of the largest business empires in the nation of 46 million, spanning energy and steel-making to banking and media.

Also the owner of Ukraine's top soccer club Shakhtar, Akhmetov, 46, hails from Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region, which is Yanukovich's home and power base. 

Akhmetov's firm SCM declined to say how much it would pay for the 92.79 percent stake in Ukrtelecom.

EPIC itself paid the Ukrainian government $1.3 billion for the stake in 2011.

The Austrian firm ended up being the only bidder for Ukrtelecom then because the terms of the privatization auction barred potential investors including Deutsche Telekom due to governments holding large stakes in their capital.

Ukrtelecom controls about 80 percent of Ukraine's fixed-line market and runs a relatively small 3G mobile network.

Following Yanukovich's 2010 election as president, the billionaire, whose worth Forbes estimates at $15 billion, has emerged as one of the main buyers of state property, snapping up assets such as electric power generation and distribution companies.

Akhmetov's SCM said in a statement it owned another local fixed-line operator, Vega, and had a minority stake in Astelit, Ukraine's third-largest mobile operator. 

Source: Yahoo News