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Alfa Eyes N. Korea And Iran

Telecom companies linked to Mikhail Fridman's Alfa Group are looking at investing in riskier markets such as North Korea and Afghanistan, and could be in talks to enter Iran, as opportunities for growth shrink at home.

Altimo, Alfa's telecoms arm, has been in talks to buy a half share in Iranian mobile phone company Iraphone, The Sunday Times of London reported.

Citing documents, it said Altimo began considering the acquisition last fall and earmarked an initial investment of $11 million, to be followed by a further $60 million over three years plus reinvested profits. Altimo aims to attract 5 million subscribers, the newspaper said.

The agreement was due to be clinched in June, and "orders are now being placed for equipment to get the project off the ground," the report said.

Nobody at Altimo or Iraphone was available for comment Sunday. A representative of Altimo's London-based public relations agency, Cubitt Consulting, declined to comment.

Members of Altimo's advisory board, including former British foreign secretary Douglas Hurd and Peter Watson, a member of the U.S. National Security Council, could face uncomfortable questions over the Russian company's possible involvement in Iran.

Alexander Izosimov, CEO of VimpelCom, in which Altimo has a stake of at least 44 percent, said Friday that the company could consider investing in North Korea and Afghanistan to sustain growth beyond 2009.

(The Moscow Times 02.vii.07)

 
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