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Vimpelcom hires former Verizon Wireless finance chief

By Maria Kiselyova

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's third-largest mobile operator Vimpelcom has hired the former finance chief of the biggest U.S. mobile provider Verizon Wireless, as it strives to cut its $23 billion debt.

Vimpelcom, which has significant operations in Italy and several emerging markets, also said on Wednesday it was moving its shares to U.S. technology market Nasdaq after nearly two decades trading on rival NYSE Euronext, to cut costs.

The appointment of Andrew Davies as chief financial officer (CFO) could help Amsterdam-based Vimpelcom cut debt, while it exits some emerging markets and refocuses on its core operations in Russia and Italy, analysts said.

Davies worked at Vodafone's Turkish, Japanese and U.K. businesses before joining Verizon Wireless - a joint venture between the British company and U.S.-based Verizon Communications - in 2010.

He left the CFO role at Verizon Wireless in June to become Vodafone's financial representative at the joint venture.

Analysts linked Davies' appointment to Vimpelcom's recent move to set up an in-house bank aimed to help manage the group's $23 billion net debt that resulted from a more than $6 billion acquisition of Egypt's Orascom Telecom and Italy's Wind in 2010.

"This structure demands a very experienced, high-level CFO at the group level and thus Vimpelcom is well positioned to attract the best talent out there," said Tibor Bokor at Wood&Co.

Alexander Vengranovich, analyst at Otkritie brokerage, said some Vimpelcom investors were concerned outgoing CFO Henk van Dalen had moved too slowly to ease the debt burden.

Vimpelcom said Davies will take up his post by January 2014.

Vimpelcom vies for customers in Russia and investors seeking exposure to that telecoms market with London-listed rival Megafon and New York-listed MTS.

Russian companies tend to list their stock abroad to attract more shareholders as the Moscow market is relatively small and unpopular with foreign investors.

Some investors have favored Megafon and MTS due to Vimpelcom's lagging performance in Russia and a long dispute between its two biggest shareholders Altimo, the telecoms arm of Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman's Alfa-Group, and Norwegian telecoms group Telenor, which was resolved last year.

Vimpelcom is the smallest of Russia's big three mobile operators with 24 percent of subscribers compared with MTS's 31 percent market share and Megafon's 27 percent, according to market research group AC&M.

It lost the number two spot to Megafon in 2010 while expanding abroad.

Vimpelcom has focused on improving its market share in Russia, which accounted for two-fifths of its revenue last year, by cutting costs and boosting network quality.

Vimpelcom's shares were up 5 percent by 1720 GMT, outperforming MTS which was trading 0.2 percent higher.

LISTING SWITCH

Vimpelcom, which listed its shares on the New York Stock Exchange in 1996, said on Wednesday it was moving to rival Nasdaq to be included into several technology indexes and to save costs.

"There are many TMT (technology, media and telecoms) companies present on Nasdaq ... and we think it is a natural step for Vimpelcom to be included into that very strong group of companies," Vimpelcom Chief Executive Jo Lunder said in a telephone interview.

NYSE and Nasdaq compete fiercely for company listings, although Russian companies which join overseas stock exchanges tend to favor the London Stock Exchange, which is closer.

Vimpelcom will join other Russian technology-focused companies on Nasdaq such as search engine Yandex and expects to begin trading on September 10.

The move will be a loss for the NYSE, which boasts a handful of Russian names such as MTS, steel and coal miner Mechel and U.S.-based IT firm Epam Systems Inc.

Vimpelcom, which last month agreed to sell two of its African businesses is considering buying Warid Telecom in Pakistan, where it already operates under the brand Mobilink.

"Pakistan is clearly a core market that we have a long-term ambition in," Lunder said.

(Additional reporting by Sinead Carew; Writing by Megan Davies; Editing by Thomas Atkins and Erica Billingham)

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