Russia's Richest Man Increases Stake in Local Facebook-Like Site

6:13 AM PST 03/18/2014 by Nick Holdsworth
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Alisher Usmanov

Alisher Usmanov, who has strong ties with president Vladimir Putin, has taken a majority stake in "Russia's Facebook" via his Internet giant Mail.ru.

MOSCOW -- Russia's largest Internet provider, Mail.ru, has taken a controlling stake in VKontakte, a popular local social media site modeled on Facebook.

The company acquired a 12 percent stake in VK from Ivan Tavrin, the head of Russian mobile phone operator Megafon, via his investment holding Bullion Development.

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The deal, understood to be for an undisclosed cash sum, brings Mail.ru's holding in VK to 52 percent.

Mail.ru is part owned by Alisher Usmanov, Russia's richest man and a personal friend of president Vladimir Putin. Usmanov has stakes in a wide range of industrial and media companies and is a major shareholder in London soccer club Arsenal.

The move was welcomed by analysts, who say it could be the first move in a series of steps by Mail.ru to acquire full control of VK.

The deal came just days after the Kremlin blocked access to a number of websites accused of carrying anti-government propaganda.

VK founder Pavel Durov has been under increasing pressure in the past year to stop users illegally downloading music and video from the site.

There was no immediate comment Tuesday from Durov. His last public announcement on his VK page was on Feb. 1, referring to the law allowing Internet sites to be blocked, when he wrote: "Today…the Russian Internet begins a new era. [An] Act comes into force according to which any online resource can be blocked without a court order."

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