BAT in 200-million-euro bid to buy three Bulgartabak plants

SOFIA (Reuters) – British American Tobacco has offered to pay 200 million euros ($260.3 million) for three cigarette plants owned by Bulgarian state tobacco firm Bulgartabak, a government official told Reuters yesterday. «The British company has valued the three cigarette mills in Sofia, Plovdiv and Blagoevgrad for 250 million euros, which means they have offered to pay 200 million for 80 percent stakes in the three,» said the official, who asked not to be named. On Tuesday, the mostly ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms, the junior member of the ruling coalition, called for the government to scrap the privatization of the Bulgartabak factories and launch a new sale process. Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg’s centrist government must now decide how to proceed with the highly politicized deal, but the Economy Ministry has said the factories can be sold only if there is a consensus among the two ruling partners. Bulgartabak tried to sell the four best performing of its nine cigarette makers, grouped in two packages, in October, but it received only one bid, from BAT, for its Sofia and Plovdiv operations. Economy Minister Lidia Shuleva, whose office has held secret talks with BAT since then, revealed on Tuesday that the British firm was now also offering to buy the Blagoevgrad plant as well. But analysts say the chances for the bogged-down sale – which the IMF has said is crucial to Bulgaria’s efforts to overhaul its Soviet-designed economy – are slim, due to disagreement between the ruling parties.