Orascom takeover likely to go ahead, with or without Djezzy

07 December 2010

Chief executive officer says Algerian unit is not holding back sale of Orascom

Orascom chief executive officer, Khaled Bichara, says the planned takeover of the Egyptian telecoms firm by Russia’s Vimpelcom does not depend on Djezzy, its local mobile operator in Algeria. “From the business side, we are not waiting for the Algerian unit,” he says.

Naguib Sawiris’ Weather Investments, which owns a 51.7 per cent stake in Orascom Telecom Holding, is planning to merge with Russia’s Vimpelcom in a deal worth $6.6bn

A decision is likely to be reached by the end of 2010, with the deal closing in the first half of 2011.

Vimpelcom is waiting for the approval of three shareholders, including Norway’s Telenor, which owns a 36 per cent share in the Russian firm. Once the deal goes ahead, the new company will create the world’s fifth-largest mobile operator. It was thought the deal would fall apart without Djezzy.

The Algerian government is due to choose an adviser to help begin its bid for Djezzy. Submissions have been made by a mixture of international banks, accountancy firms and law firms. The bidders are: Renaissance Capital, Rothschild, Goetz Partners, Curtis Malle Prevost Colte & Mosle, HSBC, Grant Thornton, Swicorp, Shearman & Sterling, Global Investment House, Ahmed Mansour & Associés and the Tunisia office of RSM International.

The government decided to seek an international adviser to help value the deal and to propose potential international partners for its proposed purchase of Djezzy after it blocked South African MTN Group’s offer of $7.8bn in June this year.  

Algerian officials have stated that $2-3bn is a fair price for Orascom’s most profitable unit. The state is expected to take a 51 per cent share in the company, with an international partner set to take a 49 per cent stake. The sale is expected to go ahead in the first half of 2011, according to Algeria’s telecoms minister Moussa Benhamadi.

The government has also issued Sawiris a $230m bill in unpaid taxes for 2008 and 2009.The company was also faced with back tax charges of $600m for which Orascom claims to have been blessed with a five-year tax holiday. Sawiris has claimed that the government is deliberately trying to run down the value of the company ahead of the sale.

Orascom sold its 50 per cent stake in Tunisiana to Qtel in November this year for $1.2bn. Tunisia’s board was against the Vimpelcom takeover.

Bichara denied suggestions that Sawiris is planning to sell off Orascom units individually to Vimpelcom.

Earlier this month Weather Investments obtained sales documents for a tender for a majority stake in Serbia’s Telekom Srbija. “We are going to be very careful disposing of cash resources, but if there are opportunities then we will explore them as a group,” says Bichara.

Lazard, EFG-Herme, Credit Suisse and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton are all advising Weather Investments on the Vimpelcom merger.

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