Russia’s largest social network VKontakte is having a legal civil war

What started a year ago as a shareholder dispute within VKontakte, Russia’s largest social network, appears to be emerging as a full-blown war of litigation. The faction most actively fanning the legal flames is United Capital Partners (UCP), a major Russian fund active in various sectors that acquired a 48 percent stake in VK a year ago. In an initial foray two months ago, UCP took on VKontakte’s other shareholders.

VKontakte’s second-largest shareholder sued Pavel Durov, the founder of the Russian social network, over control of a separate mobile-messaging service he developed. United Capital Partners, which owns 48 percent of the social network’s holding company, VK.Com Ltd., started legal proceedings in the British Virgin Islands against Durov and billionaire Alisher Usmanov’s Mail.ru Group Ltd. (MAIL), which holds the remaining 52 percent of VK.Com, according to a UCP statement today. The fund claimed that VK.Com is the proper owner of the messaging service, called Telegram. Durov, also VKontakte’s chief executive officer, says he used his own money and assets to develop Telegram, which is run by a nonprofit entity he helped set up in Berlin. The service gained popularity after Facebook Inc. (FB) agreed to buy similar messenger WhatsApp for $19 billion this year, and has 35 million users.

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