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Megafon Shareholders Reportedly Seize Control of "Russia's Facebook"

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The owner of half of Russia's second largest mobile network is now said to be in joint control of the country's largest social media website, in a move being described by its founder as a Kremlin backed takeover.

Pavel Durov, the founder of VKontakte -- with around 240 million users it is often described as the Russian Facebook -- says that he was pushed out of the company which is now under the control of two Kremlin allies.

There is some discrepancies in the claim, with allegations that he sold his shares last year and may have resigned on several previous occasions, only to rescind, or not, his resignation.

The company is now being controlled, apparently, by Igor Sechin and Alisher Usmanov.

Igor Sechin is the CEO of the state-owned oil company, Rosneft and said to be a close ally of the Putin government, while Alisher Usmanov is Russia's richest man and co-owner of Russia's second-largest mobile telephone operator, MegaFon.

Through one of Usmanov's other subsidiary company's, he is understood to own just under 40% of VKontakte. In 2012, it ceded voting rights of its shares to the website founder, Pavel Durov which when combined with his personal 12% stake ensured he would keep control over the company.

The social media website recently refused requests from the government to clamp down on postings relating to the situation in Ukraine and has been under pressure to be more compliant with Kremlin demands for control over the media.

Last May, it was reported in the media that the site had been mistakenly put on a list of websites banned by the Russian government, although that ban was lifted quickly, it was seen as a sign of growing pressure on the website to be more amenable to government demands.

Earlier this year, Durov was said to have sold his personal 12% stake to Ivan Tavrin, the CEO of Russian mobile phone operator Megafon. That gave Megafon and its shareholders an indirect 52% stake in the company, and management control.

Durov says that he only learnt that he had been fired through press reports, although the company itself says that he tendered his resignation a month ago, and it had been accepted.

VKontakte's spokesman George Lobushkin told BuzzFeed a replacement for Durov would be chosen at the next board of directors meeting, a date for which has yet to be set.

On the web: BuzzFeed

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Tags: vkontakte  megafon  alisher usmanov  Russia