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Russian investors have bought ICQ, the venerable instant messenger service, from AOL for $187.5m.

The deal was announced today by Digital Sky Technologies, an investment group backed by Yuri Milner, a media baron, and Alisher Usmanov, the controversial Uzbek commodities plutocrat who owns a large stake in Arsenal FC.

After dotcom-era success, the popularity of ICQ has waned in the West. In Israel, where it was developed, and former Soviet countries, it remains a leading instant messenging service however.

AOL bought ICQ back in 1998, from its developer Mirabilis, for $407m. It now registers 32 million users per month. In 2001 it announced it had 100 million registered users.

AOL, currently amputating non-profitable arms as it aims to refocus as a digital publisher said today: "Digital Sky Technologies is a leading innovator in the Internet investment space and has a significant presence in the markets where ICQ is strong."

The Russian group is dominant in its home market, claiming responsibility for 70 per cent of all web page views. In the West its most significant investment to date has been its $200m purchase of 2 per cent of Facebook. ®

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