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Court lifts seizure of Lifecell shares, paving way for French acquisition

by Elsa Court and The Kyiv Independent news desk April 16, 2024 7:26 PM 2 min read
Logo of Lifecell in the center of Khmelnytskyi, Ukraine, on Dec. 19, 2022. (Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
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A Kyiv Court ruled on April 16 to cancel the seizure of Lifecell shares owned by sanctioned oligarch Mikhail Fridman, paving the way for French billionaire Xavier Niel to acquire the mobile operator as part of a merger with telecoms company Datagroup-Volia.

Niel's investment company NJJ announced on April 8 that it had received regulatory approval from Ukraine's antitrust regulator to acquire Datagroup-Volia, one of Ukraine's largest fixed telecom and pay-TV providers.

Although NJJ is still awaiting regulatory approval to acquire Lifecell, Ukraine's third-largest mobile operator, the court ruling represents the removal of one obstacle to the acquisition.

Lifecell is 100%-owned by Turkcell, a publicly traded company dual-listed on the Istanbul and New York Stock exchanges.

LetterOne, an investment management company founded by Fridman, indirectly owns 19.8% of Turkcell shares.

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Ukraine froze these shares in October 2023, months after nationalizing Sense Bank, a Ukrainian branch of Fridman's Alfa-Bank, citing the fact that its owner had been sanctioned for supporting Russia's invasion.

Earlier on April 16, Datagroup-Volia CEO Mykhailo Shelemba said the sale contract prohibited any payment to Fridman.

"Not one cent from the sale of Turkcell's assets in Ukraine will be transferred to sanctioned persons or companies controlled by them," Shelemba said.

"All parties to this agreement, both buyers and sellers, are legally bound to strictly comply with international and Ukrainian law, in particular the current sanctions of the National Security and Defense Council," Shelemba said.

NJJ's purchases will be one of the largest acquisitions in independent Ukraine's 33-year history since Indian Mittal Steel purchased the Kryvorizhstal complex for $4.8 billion in 2005 before merging with Arcelor a year later, and becoming ArcelorMittal.

French billionaire Xavier Niel planning to buy 2 Ukrainian telecoms companies in one of largest acquisitions in country’s history
The total value of the acquisition, including the purchase price and investment, is expected to be over $1 billion, a source involved in the deal told the Kyiv Independent. The final value of the deal will be announced at the close.
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