OT turns screws on Syrian partner

10 January 2003
Egypt's Orascom Telecom (OT)has obtained a ruling from an Austrian court for a freeze injunction on all accounts held with the Arab Bankin Vienna by Drex Technologies, which is controlled by Rami Makhlouf, the principal Syrian partner in OT's ill-fated Syriatelventure. It is the second such ruling it has obtained in its dispute over the GSM operator (MEED 1:11:02).

The two partners have been locked in dispute since the beginning of 2002. After Syriatel was placed in receivership in April, Syrian courts blocked OT from selling most of its stake in the company to Cylotel, a telecoms operator registered in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). A Damascus court ruling in October ordered OT to hand over its share in GSM operator Syriatel to Makhlouf and pay the equivalent of $20 million in damages. A fortnight earlier OT had obtained a ruling from the BVI high court for a freezing injunction up to the value of $47 million on the worldwide assets of Drex.

OT has consistently rejected its Syrian partners' claims that it has breached its contract with Drex and Makhlouf, intimating that Makhlouf's aim has been to secure overall control of the venture. Drex has sold its stake in Syriatel to Ramak, a Syrian company controlled by Makhlouf family interests.

OT in late December sold its stake in Jordan Mobile Telephone Services (Fastlink)to Mobile Telecommunications Companyof Kuwait, in a deal worth $424 million. The company said the sale would help to offset its debts, which have grown since it embarked on a major regional expansion programme in 2001, when it acquired Algeria's first GSM licence for $737 million (MEED 3:1:02).

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