Telecoms regulator sacked; BTC sell-off seen nearer

SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria’s government sacked the head of its telecommunications watchdog yesterday in a surprise move which could pave the way to the controversial sale of state fixed-line operator BTC. Bulgaria’s government agreed to sell 65 percent of BTC to US equity fund Advent for 230 million euros ($272 million) in February, ending years of court battles and political wrangling that have hurt the European Union candidate’s attempts at an investor-friendly image. The government hailed the pact as a success, but shortly after it popped corks at the signing ceremony, the sell-off was halted by the Communications Regulation Commission. The commission’s head, Georgi Alexandrov, said he was not sure if competition rules could allow the State to grant BTC a license to operate a digital mobile phone network, which had been offered as a sweetener in the deal. The move delayed an April closing deadline, angering Advent and members of the Cabinet, which sacked Alexandrov saying among other things that the commission had been too slow to make decisions under his leadership. Sources close to the deal said Alexandrov’s exit could open the way for the sale to be wrapped up by a new June 20 deadline. «It’s certainly an important development which indicates the government is resolute to complete the deal… We have a deadline, and I think the deadline will be met,» said a source close to the BTC deal who wished not to be named. Analysts say that if the Balkan state does not seal the BTC sale, its credibility with foreign investors would suffer, and it would miss out on upgrades from global credit rating agencies expected later this year. Local media have speculated Bulgaria’s two existing GSM operators, Mobiltel, owned by Austrian investors, and Globul, owned by Greece’s OTE, have opposed the sale.

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