Cell phone deal disputed

PRISTINA – Kosovo’s prime minister and US diplomats yesterday challenged a decision to select a local company as the province’s second cell phone operator, with the prime minister raising concerns about possible corruption. Mobikos, a local company owned by an ethnic Albanian businessman, in partnership with the Slovenian cell phone company Mobitel, won the bid, said Anton Berisha, the head of the board of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority. The company «meets the technical and financial conditions better than the other companies and we have declared it a winner,» Berisha said. However, Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi said the deal should be rethought. In a letter obtained by The Associated Press, he urged Charles Brayshaw, Kosovo’s acting UN administrator, to use his special powers to suspend the board’s decision until suspicions of wrongdoing could be ruled out. «Allegations of corruption are circulating, whereas the independence of the TRA board from ‘outside political, industrial and other influence,’ as the law requires, seems to be seriously questioned,» Rexhepi wrote. The US office in Kosovo also criticized the decision and urged Kosovo’s institutions to «look carefully at whether this process was carried out fairly and properly.» «Potential investors will want to know this process was conducted in a professional and transparent fashion,» Marcie Ries, the head of the office, said in a statement. She said «the sudden announcement of the decision» raised questions about whether there «was sufficient time for a comprehensive review of the thousands of pages of technical documentation submitted only in English.» Other bidders included the Kosovo provider IPKO in cooperation with the US-based Western Wireless International; Swedish Tele 2 and Alliance Assets Group; and a grouping of Albanian-American businessmen. AlbaCell, a partnership with Norwegian-based Telenor and Kostel, a local partnership with French-based Orange, were also bidding for the contract. The bid was opened in early April. The province already has one cell phone operator under a deal between the Kosovo Post Telecom and French-based Alcatel. Kosovo, formally part of Serbia-Montenegro, has been run as a UN protectorate since mid-1999 when the war ended here.