United Group, the private-equity backed cable company, has struck a €1.2bn deal to acquire Bulgaria’s former state owned telecoms operator Vivacom.
The sale is one of the largest deals struck by United, owned by BC Partners, to consolidate the Balkan media and communications industry. It agreed to buy Tele2 Croatia for €220m in May and has so far rolled up about 100 Balkan businesses.
It comes in spite of a long-running ownership dispute around Vivacom, which is still rumbling through the courts.
“Vivacom is a well-run company with strong management and I am excited at the opportunities we have to build an even stronger business,” United Group’s chief executive officer Victoriya Boklag said in a statement.
The ownership dispute dates back to a 2015 auction at which Spas Roussev, a London-based Bulgarian businessman, and the London arm of Russian bank VTB took control of Vivacom after a debt default.
Russian businessman Dmitry Kosarev has challenged the 2015 sale of Vivacom, arguing that the auction was artificial and that his investment was wiped out as a result. His lawyers have written to Lazard, which handled the sale, and all the bidding partners to warn them of impending litigation.
The sale will lead to a big profit for Mr Roussev and his partners, whose consortium paid €330m for Vivacom. A Vivacom spokeswoman said the enterprise value on the sale was higher as it included a €400m bond.
Empreno Ventures, Mr Kosarev’s investment vehicle, immediately moved to sue United Group and BC Partners as a result of the Vivacom sale.
It said that the buyers had been made aware of the litigation surrounding the 2015 auction and its claim to ownership and were thus not a “bone fide purchaser” of the telecoms company. The cable company and its private equity backer will now be named as parties in impending legal action as Empreno seeks to reverse the 2015 transaction.
The sale would mark the sixth time Vivacom has changed hands since it was privatised in 2004. The companies expect the deal to be completed in the second quarter of 2020, subject to competition approval.
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