Further delay in BTC sale

SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria’s privatization agency said yesterday it would postpone the conclusion of its drawn-out sale of state telecom firm BTC while it waits for a ruling on whether the government’s granting of a mobile phone license as part of the deal breaks competition rules. The government signed a deal to sell 65 percent of BTC to US-based private equity fund Advent for 230 million euros in February. They had originally agreed to finalize the contract today. But the sale – already marred by years of court battles and political wrangling – has since been bogged down by recent changes in legislation that are threatening to block ex-king Simeon Saxe-Coburg’s reformist administration from granting Advent a license to operate a GSM digital mobile phone network. The government must grant the license, which it offered to sweeten the deal, to close the sale. The privatization agency and Advent agreed to push back the date by two months to June 20 as they await two decisions by the anti-monopoly watchdog on whether the license would break rules on state aid and market concentration. «Due to the need to receive additional information from different state agencies, the expected date for finalizing the sale of BTC is extended on mutual agreement within 60 days from April 20,» the privatization agency said in a statement. Analysts have said that failure to complete the sale would damage Bulgaria’s credibility among foreign investors and dash its hopes of winning credit ratings upgrades this year. Local media have speculated that the the two existing GSM operators – Mobiltel, owned by private Austrian investors, and Globul, owned by Greece’s OTE Telecoms, could also challenge the granting of a new license in court.

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