ECONOMY

Serbs will not buy OTE share

BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbia said yesterday it had no plan to buy back a 20 percent stake held by OTE of Greece in its landline monopoly Telekom Srbija if the Greek side considered selling out. OTE was left as the sole partner to the state last December, when Serbia bought back from Italy’s Telecom Italia a 29 percent stake for 195 million euros ($228 million), welcomed by local analysts as a smart move. OTE has said it wanted to take over Telekom Srbija’s mobile unit in exchange for its share in the landline business or to ditch its stake altogether. OTE and Telecom Italia together became shareholders in Telekom Srbija in 1997 for nearly $1.0 billion, in a single sell-off to foreigners during the rule of Slobodan Milosevic. «As far as Telekom Srbija is concerned, Serbia has no intention to buy back the 20 percent stake held by the Greek partner,» Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic told a news conference. «They have been dissatisfied, but that’s emotional. Their offer to become majority or even 100 percent owners of the mobile telephony by swapping the ownership of the 20 percent stake in the landline division cannot be considered as serious.» On Sunday, Telekom Srbija’s Chairman Dragor Hiber said that he would call a meeting of shareholders by the end of October to approve changes to the original tripartite agreement. «We are offering the Greeks changes to the shareholder agreement giving them, as minority stake holders, the highest level of protection,» the Beta news agency quoted Hiber as saying. The ruling reformers, who toppled Milosevic in October 2000, have called the original Telekom transaction «the biggest heist of the 20th century» and launched a probe into the deal.