A long-running dispute between Russian mobile phone operator VimpelCom and the Algerian government appears to be over following Friday’s announcement that the parties have reached an agreement.
Under the terms of that agreement, VimpelCom—which is owned by Norwegian telecom giant Telenor and Russian oligarch Mikhail Fridman’s Alfa Group—has agreed to sell a majority stake in Orascom Telecom Algeria to the North African nation for roughly $2.6 billion.
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld corporate partners Daniel Walsh and Sebastian Rice are leading a cross-border team from the firm advising VimpelCom on the deal, along with M&A partners Jean-Gabriel Flandrois and Samy Laghouati from top French firm Gide Loyrette Nouel, which is counseling VimpelCom on French and Algerian law.
Walsh, a London-based member of Akin Gump’s management committee, and Rice, who works out of Moscow, previously advised on the $21.5 billion tie-up in 2010 between VimpelCom and Weather Investments, a privately held telecom investment company owned by Egyptian billionaire and telecom mogul Naguig Sawiris. As a result of that deal, VimpelCom became a majority stakeholder in Orascom Telecom Algeria, which is also known as Djezzy.
The Algerian government subsequently retained Shearman & Sterling to assess Djezzy’s value amid an effort to nationalize the telecom. In April 2012, Algeria said that Shearman had determined that the company was worth $6.5 billion, although there was a disagreement over whether the figure pertained to all of Djezzy or just the 51 percent stake held by VimpelCom.
The two sides pursued arbitration before the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes. Algeria also retained Shearman for those proceedings, which were set to begin next week. A Luxembourg-based affiliate controlled by Sawiris, meanwhile, hired Magic Circle firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer to press a $5 billion damages claim against the Algerian government for allegedly interfering with the oligarch’s Djezzy investment. (VimpelCom, no stranger to arbitration battles, was not a party to that case.)
Under the terms of the agreement announced Friday, VimpelCom retains control of Djezzy, despite handing its 51 percent stake in the company to the Fonds National d’Investissement (FNI), which functions as Algeria’s sovereign wealth fund.
Shearman of counsel Cyrille Niedzielski and partner Guillaume Isautier in Paris are working with associates Barbara Le Chapellier and Christian Guilluy in representing FNI on the matter. The agreement also calls for Algiers-based Djezzy to pay VimpelCom affiliate Global Telecom Holding an additional $1.86 billion dividend before the transaction closes, which is expected by year’s end. (Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher dispute resolution partner Penny Madden and of counsel Sarah Wazen—both of whom joined the firm’s London office from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom last year—are advising GTH on the deal.)
VimpelCom will use proceeds from the deal to pay down a $27.5 billion debt load. The company, whose headquarters are in Amsterdam, saw its stock price soar in overseas markets Friday amid a broader rebound by Russian stocks, which have been sliding for weeks amid the country’s foray into neighboring Ukraine.
Other Akin Gump lawyers working on the matter include finance partner Frederick Heller, international disputes partner Justin Williams, corporate counsel Graeme Bell and David Sewell and associates Anthony Martinez, Francesca Sullivan and Amanda Tan. Jeffrey McGhie, a former Akin Gump counsel in Moscow, serves as VimpelCom’s group general counsel and chief corporate affairs officer.