Cable and Wireless (C&W), which owns 54.5 per cent of Hongkong Telecom, yesterday took another key step towards fulfilling its GBP1 billion (about HK$13.04 billion) divestment programme by selling off two of its Russian businesses and a mobile phone operation in Belarus. The surprise buyer was News Corp, the giant Australian media operation controlled by Rupert Murdoch, who yesterday called the deal a great opportunity to get involved in countries of the former Soviet Union. 'This agreement offers an opportunity for News Corp to be part of a company that is prepared to capitalise on the growth of telecommunications in this market,' Mr Murdoch said. Under the deal, News America - a wholly owned subsidiary of News Corp - will buy C&W's 30 per cent stake in PLD Telekom, and its 11 per cent stake in Peterstar in St Petersburg for GBP48 million in cash. C&W's 50 per cent interest in Belcel of Belarus will also be transferred to News America. While Belcel provided mobile phone services in Belarus, PLD and Peterstar both participated in C&W joint ventures to provide telecoms services. News Corp said its 30 per cent PLD stake would add to a further 8 per cent stake in the company also acquired yesterday, although it was revealed News Corp was already in negotiations to sell about half of its total 38 per cent holding to Logovaz, a Russian conglomerate led by Boris Berezovsky. It was thought Mr Berezovsky and Mr Murdoch could be beginning to establish a platform for more telecoms acquisitions in Russia. The deal sees PLD effectively become Mr Murdoch's main investment vehicle in Russia. PLD will have a 50 per cent stake in Belcel, and once PLD stock is exchanged for the 11 per cent in Peterstar purchased yesterday, the company will have a 71 per cent holding in Peterstar. Following the sale of PLD, Peterstar and Belcel, C&W has now sold off about GBP562 million of assets and has exited from western Russia. The group has a 60 per cent stake in digital overlay firm Nakhodka, which is based near Vladivostok, and in Sakhlin Telecom and ST Mobile, also in the far east of Russia.