BTC sale unlikely this year

SOFIA (Reuters) – The Bulgarian government is unlikely to achieve its goal of agreeing to a sale of state-owned telecoms operator BTC by the end of this year, sources close to the deal told Reuters yesterday. They said the ruling party’s junior coalition partner kept pressuring the government to reject US private equity fund Advent’s 230-million-euro ($287 million) deal to buy BTC despite a final court decision naming Advent as the winner. Local media and commentators have been speculating that the ethnic Turkish MRF party, on which the government depends for its slim parliamentary majority, wanted BTC to be sold to the only other bidder, a Turkish consortium led by Koc Holding, which offered 215 million euros. «There is no high-profile political agreement yet what to do with BTC and I don’t expect any before the end of this year,» said a government source familiar with the deal. Another source close to the sale said the sell-off agency, unable to find any legitimate grounds to reject Advent, is waiting for Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg to decide on BTC’s fate after talks with MRF leader Ahmed Dogan. Analysts say that Bulgaria, hoping to join the EU in 2007, needs to complete the telecoms sale to win a coveted investment grade credit rating and raise much-needed foreign investment. Some sources said they expected Saxe-Coburg to manage to get Dogan’s consent to a deal with Advent early next year, but others did not rule out more delays. Local analysts said the government had two options – either signing a deal with Advent or relaunching the BTC sell-off. The Supreme Administrative Court issued a final ruling in late September that Advent’s deal for 65 percent of BTC had been approved by default by the privatization agency’s supervisory board in mid-August. Advent officials said last month they had received indications from some senior government officials that a deal with the US equity house would be signed but there had been no action so far.