African Naspers buys 30% stake in one of Russias biggest internet portals

February 24, 2007, Wed 03:40 AM  Internet  Business

A big investment company appeared on the Russian internet market: the African Naspers bought 30% of Mail.ru shares. This came as a surprise for many market participants, who think Russian businessmen are behind the company.

The Naspers investment company announced it had bought 30% shares of the American Port.ru, which owns one of the biggest Russian internet portals Mail.ru. Renaissance Capital acted as the financial consultant in the deal that amounted to $165 mln. We were impressed with Mail.rus management team and especially with the high quality of programming personnel, Naspers Managing Director Antonie Roux said.

In 1998 Mail.ru became one of the first free e-mail services in Russia. Three years later it integrated into an internet portal. The number of its unique visitors is 24 mln a year. Naspers makes international investments in mass-media, under more in internet projects. Three quarters of the companys assets are in South-African republics, the rest in different developing parts of the world. Naspers is the blockholder of two internet portals: Tencent in China and Sanook in Thailand.

Last years purchase of the Rambler portal made experts talk about a coming investment boom in the Russian internet market. Runet is growing fast, Finams spokesman Vladislav Kochetkov said. It is quite natural that western companies want to make the most of it. However, the situation when Mail.ru and Ramblers capitalization exceeds the industrys annual return seems a bit unhealthy.

So far Mail.ru hasnt disclosed its shareholders names. Portals Director General Dmitry Grishin announced recently that the three main shareholders are Digital Sky Technologies (DST), Tiger Global Managment (TGM), and Naspers. TGM is a famous international investment fund; two years ago it bought shares of the Yandex internet portal. DTS is still a dark horse. Mr. Grishin refused to mention the companies share, adding that neither of them has the controlling interest.

Meanwhile in 2003 the Neftyanoy bank bought shares of the Mail.ru portal. After two years the company was deprived licence and the banks owner was put on the wanted list. Now it became clear that the bank sold its shares. Neftyanoy is a Mail.ru shareholder. He has nothing to do with the current deal, said Mr. Grishin. Naspers bought the shares that belonged to TGM and DST.

Thus, Mail.ru is now mostly in hands of foreign investors. However, not many market players trust the official information on the companys shareholders. The shares that belonged to Neftyanoy were most likely bought by Russian businessmen, because not one foreign investment fund would deal with a person put on the wanted list, said Anton Nosik, Sups blog service head, founder of Gazeta.ru and Lenta.ru. I am sure the owner will remain with Mail.ru, waiting for its IPO. I think Russian businessmen are also behind Naspers, who do not wish to disclose their names. It seems quite weird that the asset went to a foreign investor, not having much experience on the Russian market.

A source who is familiar with the details of the deal denied the above comments. Naspers is a public company, quoted on Nazdaq. It is not likely that the company is covering someone, he said. Naspers outstripped other investors just because it is quite competent in this area and because it received a rather attractive offer.


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