Albanian government orders probe into telecom privatization

TIRANA (AP) – The Albanian government said yesterday it would ask an overseas company to probe the privatization of the Albanian state phone company Albtelecom ShA, sold in May for 120 million euros (US$144 million) to a Turkish consortium. The new Democratic Party-led government of Prime Minister Sali Berisha believes there were irregularities in the sale of 76 percent of Albtelecom to the Turkish Calik Enerji telekomunikasyon aS consortium by the former Socialist government. Minister of Industry and Economy Genc Ruli asked Parliament to freeze the sale while a government committee choses a company «with a reputation in international investigation» to look at the bid process and the value of the sale. Calik Enerji was the only international company that bid to buy Albtelecom. Ten other companies – from Slovenia, South Korea, the United States, Kuwait and Ireland – had expressed interest earlier but did not submit bids. Albtelecom, which the government valued at some 145 million euros ($174 million) last January, is the only fixed-line telephone company in the country that also owns a mobile phone operator. Pandeli Majko, head of the Socialist parliamentary group, said the former government had hired an Italian company to ensure the transparency of the privatization process. Parliament was expected to vote on the ratification of the sales contract. Albania, one of Europe’s poorest countries, is in the process of privatizing state-owned companies. In December 2003, it sold the Savings Bank of Albania to Austria’s Raiffeisen Bank.