Gov’t fights high court on BTC sale

SOFIA – Bulgaria’s Privatization Agency yesterday decided to appeal against a supreme court ruling that canceled its decision to scrap a planned sale of dominant telecoms operator BTC to US private equity house Advent. Last month, the Supreme Administrative Court overruled the sell-off agency’s May decision to reject the 210-million-euro ($243.6 million) landmark sale of 65 percent in BTC to Advent, favoring Advent’s appeal against the agency’s decision. The court said scrapping the sale was contrary to a preliminary deal sealed between the agency and Advent in March and advised the sell-off agency’s supervisory board to come up with a new decision on the BTC sale. A sell-off agency official told Reuters that the seven-member supervisory board unanimously voted to stick to its position against a deal with Advent and appeal the supreme court’s ruling before the court’s extended panel, whose decision is final. The move is the latest twist in the troubled BTC sell-off, which has been dragging for more than a year and which analysts and investors see as a key test for the reformist government’s privatization policies. The sell-off agency’s supervisory board had rejected the sale to Advent, citing legal inconsistencies in the preliminary March deal. Some analysts said the decision marred the European Union aspirant’s investment image abroad. Legal experts say the appeal procedure, coinciding with the court’s summer break in August, may well drag on to September. That would mean further delays in the sale of BTC, which industry experts say is in dire need of investment to modernize its outdated analog network and fight competition after it lost its landline monopoly in January this year. Following Advent’s appeal, the sell-off body suspended talks with the only other bidder, a consortium of Turkey’s leading industrial conglomerate Koc Holding and Turk Telekom, until a final court ruling. The Turkish consortium, which originally offered 185 million euros for the same stake but envisaged fewer staff cuts than Advent, has said it raised its offer for BTC but gave no figure. Advent has also said it was ready to raise by 20 million euros its current offer of 210 million.

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