Majority stake in Mobiltel on offer

VIENNA (Reuters) – One of the banks in a consortium that owns Mobiltel, Bulgaria’s largest mobile phone service provider, said yesterday it was interested in selling a majority stake rather than the minority it earlier offered. Chief Executive Johann Zwettler of Austrian bank BAWAG-PSK said he expected the sale to take place in the first half of next year. «My understanding is that between 51 percent and 100 percent will be disposed of,» Zwettler told reporters in Vienna. Telekom Austria, the only company to have publicly confirmed an interest in Mobiltel, said in October it had called off talks because Mobiltel was looking at a rival offer for just a minority holding. Telekom has repeatedly said it only wanted a majority stake as part of efforts to expand in southeastern Europe, where it has profitable cell phone units in Croatia and Slovenia. Herbert Cordt, chairman of Mobiltel’s executive board, told Reuters after Telekom Austria’s withdrawal that Mobiltel’s owners were in exclusive negotiations with an unnamed financial buyer to sell a minority stake. Analysts value Mobiltel, which has 75 percent of the Bulgarian telecom market, at between 1 billion and 1.4 billion euros. Industry sources and media reports have identified other interested parties as Vodafone Group, 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 network called Globul in September. Analysts consider Bulgaria as a potentially strong growth market as present mobile usage is only between 30-35 percent of the potential market, compared to above 50 percent in central Europe.