Turkey about to issue call to sell indebted Telsim

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey expects to issue the sale tender advertisement for mobile phone operator Telsim by this weekend, the head of the state banking fund said. TMSF Chairman Ahmet Erturk told Reuters that the authorities planned to have completed the sale and solved legal problems surrounding the No 2 GSM firm in Turkey by the end of this year. The sale has been held up by a legal wrangle surrounding the company’s $3.4 billion debt to Motorola and Nokia. The advertisement for the sale tender, which will be conducted on the basis of closed bids and an open auction, will be published in the country’s Official Gazette, Erturk said in an interview late on Monday. «The sales date and the minimum price will be announced (in the advert). We aim to complete the sale by December at the latest and by then the legal problem will be solved as well,» he said. The Savings and Deposits Insurance Fund (TMSF), a state banking body, took over Telsim and hundreds of other firms belonging to the Uzan family last year after the collapse of the family’s Imar Bank. Finland’s Nokia, the world’s biggest mobile phone maker, and US giant Motorola, the second-largest, sued the Uzan family in 2002, accusing it of misappropriating loans to Telsim. The Uzan family denies wrongdoing. The TMSF says the Uzans owe it nearly $6 billion and it is planning to recoup part of this through the sale of the company. Sources close to the creditors have said the sale was being blocked by a demand from Motorola and Nokia for a guarantee that Telsim’s former owners would not be able to retrieve monies paid to the two firms if the former owners took legal action to regain control. Erturk said they were close to finding a solution to the debt issue. «There is a de facto situation and we are working to turn this into a proper written legal document. We want to resolve irreversibly all debt issues of Telsim so that the buyer will face no hitches legally and financially,» he said. «We are also asking Motorola not to create new problems,» he said, adding the final debt agreement hinged on the condition that Motorola drops all cases it had filed in the United States and Switzerland for international arbitration against Turkey and also to seize Telsim’s international roaming revenues. Motorola also obtained court backings in New York to seize property of the Uzan family in the United States. Telsim, the country’s second-biggest operator after Turkcell, has debts of $2.5 billion to Motorola and $900 million to Nokia and the TMSF has been in talks with the two firms since June 2004 on paying part of these debts. According to an agreement with the TMSF made earlier this year, Motorola and Nokia had agreed to get whichever higher of 20 percent and 7.5 percent of the sales revenue or at least $400 million and $150 million, respectively. Telsim also has debts of $600 million to $700 million with several government institutions. All debts will be met from the sales revenues, which analysts expect to be between about $4 billion and $5 billion based on the assumption of a value of about $500 per user of Telsim’s 8.5 million subscribers. Sources close to the sale said about 15 local and international companies, including Vodafone, Telenor, Etisalat and Hutchison Whampoa, have expressed interest in Telsim.