Advent to be allowed to up BTC bid

SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria asked its privatization agency on Friday to allow US private equity house Advent to sweeten its bid for state-owned telecom company BTC, paving the way for the completion of a long-delayed, landmark sale. Advent has already said it would raise by 20 million euros ($23 million) its 210-million-euro offer for 65 percent of the aged telecom service provider, which Sofia had hoped to privatize by mid-2002. A deal may now be agreed as early as next week. Bulgaria’s top privatization was almost derailed after some officials said the sale procedure breached technical and legal rules, dealing a serious setback for the small Balkan country’s hopes for European Union entry as early as 2007. The Cabinet asked the privatization agency to rubber-stamp Advent’s plans to raise its BTC bid by 20 million euros. It also asked the London-based private equity house to impose 2,000 fewer staff redundancies than it had previously planned. «We have received the message from the government and we are reviewing the terms. We will do our best to meet the deadline set by the government, which is extremely tight,» Advent International Managing Director Joanna James told Reuters. The government has asked the privatization agency to wrap up final talks with Advent by Wednesday. The decision comes after a high-profile legal battle that saw the Supreme Administrative Court overrule the government’s plan to scrap the BTC sale to Advent in late July. The government’s latest move significantly lowers the chances of it opting for a deal with the only other BTC bidder – a Turkish consortium of industrial conglomerate Koc Holding and Turk Telekom. Local commentators said the government’s decision indicated that Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg and the government’s junior coalition partner, the ethnic Turkish MRF party, were closer to an agreement over the BTC sale. Local media have repeatedly said the government might make a political decision to sell BTC to the Turkish group to win favor with the MRF, on which the government depends for its slim parliamentary majority. On Thursday, respected Finance Minister Milen Velchev, a leading reformer in the government, threatened to quit, citing a lack of support for vital reforms, including slow privatization. The Turkish consortium declined to comment on the government’s latest plan to seek a deal with Advent.