Bulgaria selects bidder

SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria’s largest cellphone service provider Mobiltel said yesterday it had selected an exclusive bidder for the planned sale of a stake in the company, which is owned by Austrian private investors. Herbert Cordt, chairman of Mobiltel’s executive board, told Reuters the operator was now in talks with the exclusive buyer on the size of the stake. Mobiltel expects to sign a deal by the end of this year and close it in the first quarter of next year. «We have completed the bidding process with choosing one exclusive partner with whom to negotiate a deal. I cannot name the partner,» Cordt said. So far, only Telekom Austria has confirmed its interest in taking control of Mobiltel, which analysts value at between 1 billion and 1.4 billion euros ($1.65 billion). But Telekom Austria Chief Executive Heinz Sundt declined to say whether his firm was the unnamed exclusive bidder. «I can confirm that we have made an offer. I will be able to tell you more about how our chances look next week,» Sundt said at a Vienna trade fair yesterday. Industry sources and media reports have identified other interested parties as the Vodafone Group Plc, France Telecom, TeliaSonera, and Norway’s Telenor. Cordt said earlier this month that 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. Telekom Austria’s Sundt said last month he wanted at least a 51 percent stake in Mobiltel, which has 75 percent of the mobile market in Bulgaria, a country of 8 million people. Mobiltel’s private Austrian owners said in March they planned to sell between 25 and 49 percent of the operator but company sources said later the size of the stake had yet to be determined. Launched in 1995, Mobiltel competes against a unit of Greece’s OTE Telecom, which started a second GSM standard network called Globul in September 2001.