Seven suitors for Telsim

ISTANBUL/LONDON (Reuters) – Seven top telecoms companies from the Middle East, Europe and Russia have bid in a possible $2.8 billion-plus auction of Turkey’s second-largest wireless company, Telsim. Turkey’s TMSF banking fund yesterday named British-based mobile phone giant Vodafone Group Plc, United Arab Emirates telecoms group Etisalat, Egypt’s Orascom and Russia’s Sistema among bidders. Spokesmen for Vodafone, the world’s largest mobile phone company by revenue, and cash-rich Etisalat confirmed the companies had submitted sealed bids, but declined to give further details. However, Norwegian telecoms operator Telenor, which has also been tipped as a possible bidder, said it had opted out of the auction. «For the moment, we are not concentrating on Turkey,» Telenor spokesman Kai Rosenberg said. Turkey is selling Telsim after seizing the asset from the Uzan family after the collapse of the family’s Imar Bank in 2003, which left the government with debts of $6.5 billion. But the sale has been delayed by legal wranglings over $3.4 billion of debt owed to equipment suppliers Motorola and Nokia. Vodafone has been keen to expand into the booming Turkish mobile market. But it has been pragmatic about its chances of trumping Middle Eastern rivals who have seen war chests swollen by an oil-fueled economic boom in domestic markets. Etisalat, which was trumped by a Saudi-Italian joint venture of Oger and Telecom Italia in a previous attempt to buy fixed-line operator Turk Telekom, is considered by analysts to be a formidable rival for Telsim. Telsim has won over 9 million of Turkey’s near 40 million mobile subscribers. Other potential rival bidders include Kuwaiti Mobile Telecommunications Co (MTC), Dubai’s Emaar, Kuwait’s National Mobile Telecom, France Telecom, Turkey’s Koc and Dogan. Turkey has set an estimated minimum price of $2.8 billion for Telsim. A bid deadline was set for December 5, with Turkey’s Saving Deposits Insurance (TMSF) fund planning to open bids publicly on December 13.