An arm of the U.S Treasury is looking into concerns about AOL’s pending $187.5 million sale of instant messaging service ICQ to Russian investment group Digital Sky Technologies, due to fears that criminal investigations could be compromised, the FT reports (registration req.). ICQ, which was founded and run from Israel, is mostly used in Russia, Germany and the Czech Republic, is apparently very popular with a certain demographic: criminals.
Since Russian authorities tend to be less cooperative when it comes to working with U.S. law enforcement, investigators worry that attempts to monitor chats among criminal suspects would be cut off.
These concerns from unspecified federal investigators has been brought to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., which is a part of the U.S. Treasury. Despite these concerns, the deal between AOL (NYSE: AOL) and DST is not expected to be killed. At the very least, completion of the transaction has been slowed down. AOL originally paid $400 million for ICQ in 1998. Representatives for AOL had no comment.
In the meantime, this curious bump in the road for the two companies demonstrates the difficulties of doing deals among Americans and Russians, even after 20 years after the end of the Cold War. Nevertheless, many investors and tech companies have been looking to Russia to strike deals, which is considered a hot growth area even among the other so-called BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China).
DST, which is a big investor in Facebook, has been particularly active the last few years. In addition to Facebook, DST also owns a stake in online gamer Zynga, which runs the popular Mafia Wars and Farmville (oddly enough, that last one has not triggered an inquiry by the U.S. Agriculture Department).