PLOVDIV (Reuters) – Several telecom companies from across Europe have moved into the second round of bidding for Bulgaria’s largest cellphone operator Mobiltel, the company’s chairman said on Monday. Herbert Cordt said Mobiltel allowed between seven and nine bidders who had placed indicative offers earlier this year to carry out due diligence checks on the company before deciding whether to submit final bids. «We were surprised by the quality and the quantity of the indicative offers,» Cordt told Reuters on the sidelines of a trade fair in Bulgaria’s second largest city, Plovdiv. He declined to name the deadline for the final bids but said he expected to conclude the deal in early 2004. So far only Telekom Austria has confirmed its interest in taking control of Mobiltel, which has 75 percent of the mobile market in Bulgaria, a country of 8 million people. Industry sources and media reports have identified other interested parties as the Vodafone Group Plc, France Telecom, TeliaSonera, and Norway’s Telenor. Launched in 1995, Mobiltel competes against the local arm of Greece’s OTE Telecom, which started a second GSM provider, Globul, in September 2001.