ECONOMY

OTE deal closer in Romania

BUCHAREST – Romania’s Senate yesterday passed a bill on the sale of telecoms monopoly Romtelecom late on Thursday, laying the legal ground for Greek telecoms giant OTE to raise its stake in a $243-million deal. The vote brings the deal closer to completion after repeated delays due to disagreements over procedures, wording of the draft documents and conditions demanded by both sides. Parliament’s upper house passed the bill by 70 votes to 38, allowing OTE to raise its stake – its biggest foreign investment – to 54 percent from 35 percent. Romania and OTE have been locked in talks for much of the year about how to inject funds into the cash-strapped company. The capital boost will consist of a combination of cash worth $145 million and conversion of debt-into-equity in Romtelecom. The debt-for-equity swap includes separate sums of 55 million euros ($56.45 million) and $42.6 million. Earlier this week, OTE said it would slash 4,000 jobs in 2003 to bring the number of Romtelecom employees to 26,000 and that it might withdraw from other markets in the region to sharpen its business focus. «It’s mainly a result of the digitalization of switchboards… The manual ones employ many operators,» said Communications Minister Dan Nica. A trade union leader at Romtelecom told Reuters employees would give OTE a hard time during negotiations on the layoffs. «We are going to fight. I want to make clear that OTE must first pay the $243 million agreed under the deal before making any moves. Otherwise, there is no talking,» said Alexander Petrov, leader of Romtelecom’s Federation of trade unions. Earlier this month, OTE asked the head of its international investments division, George Skarpelis, to take the helm of Romtelecom to complete the $243-million deal. He said he expected to finalize the deal in January.