Orascom has sold its 50 per cent shareholding in mobile operator Tunisiana to a consortium led by Princesse Holding of Tunisia and Wataniya, a subsidiary of Qatar Telecom (Qtel).

Egyptian-owned Orascom, due to be acquired by Russian firm Vimpelcom, sold its shares for $1.2bn. The amount will be used to cover Orascom’s debts, which stand at $4.2bn as of June 2010. The deal is due to be finalised in early January 2011.

“The acquisition is in line with the Qtel Group’s vision for 2020, which aims to position us among the top 20 telecommunications companies in the world. We are pleased to have secured the additional Tunisiana stock at a good price,” says Qtel chairman Sheikh Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Saud al-Thani.

The divestment could pave the way for Orascom’s Algerian unit Djezzy to also be sold separately. The Algerian government is determined to acquire the country’s largest operator in terms of revenue and in doing so could invalidate the Orascom-Vimpelcom takeover.

Vimpelcom says it does not expect the deal to stall. “We are monitoring the Algerian situation and continue to offer constructive engagement at all levels.  At this moment, we do not see any factors that potentially could force us to reconsider our commitment to realise this deal,” says a Vimpelcom spokeswoman.

Tunisiana was awarded Tunisia’s second mobile licence in 2002. It has 5.7 million subscribers.

Qtel acquired a 52.5 per cent share of Wataniya in 2007.