BTC selloff falls foul of justice

SOFIA (AFP) – Bulgaria’s public prosecutors suspended yesterday the privatization of the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company (BTC) after a buyer had been chosen, amid corruption accusations. «The prosecutors’ office wishes to stop the signing of an unfavorable contract and an abuse of power,» it said in its verdict, according to the BTA news agency. Bulgaria’s Privatizations Agency chose Viva Ventures, a Vienna-based subsidiary of the US investment fund Advent International, to buy 65 percent of BTC in October. The firm pledged to invest 400 million euros in BTC over the next five years, and negotiations for the contract to be signed were under way. But the conservative opposition United Democratic Forces (UDF) this week accused the government of corruption in its choice of a buyer. «The government has committed a crime in the privatization of BTC,» UDF said. It said Advent International was not a «strategic buyer» capable of developing the telecoms sector – a requirement stated in BTC’s privatization strategy – and criticized the absence of a «golden share» for the state, which would protect the firm from a hostile takeover. Both the privatizations agency and the government refused to comment yesterday. Advent International beat two Turkish bids for BTC. BTC will hold a monopoly on fixed-line telephony in Bulgaria until the end of 2002. In 2001, its pretax profits reached 120,000 euros, up 16 percent from the equivalent figure in 2000. In 2000, an earlier attempt to privatize BTC along with a mobile telephone license failed under the previous UDF government. At that time, the highest bid, 651 million dollars, had been submitted by OTE Telecom and Dutch company KPN. After months of negotiations, the Bulgarian government had rejected the bid.

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