ECONOMY

EBRD considers buying minority stake in BTC

SOFIA – The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) said yesterday it was in talks with Bulgaria’s government on the possible purchase of a minority stake in state telecoms firm BTC before its planned sell-off. Bulgaria’s Cabinet, which took over in July, has made the BTC sale a top priority to bring in much-needed cash to one of the poorest aspirants for European Union entry. Officials expect to get at least $100 million, a figure that reflects diminished returns in a telecoms market that is way below its peak. EBRD Country Director John Chomel-Doe told Reuters in an interview the bank might buy a 10- to 20-percent stake in BTC. «We may bring in fresh money, make the company look better, so when the privatization starts, it could raise a better price,» Chomel-Doe said. «The fact that we are there as a shareholder and a neutral partner will be a comfort for potential investors; it would be seen as a good sign,» he said. Bulgaria plans to sell up to 65 percent of BTC in a two-stage competition open to both telecoms firms and financial investors without setting a minimum price. A strategy for the BTC sale, on which Deutsche Bank advised, also envisages an option for the winner to take the country’s third GSM network license. Chomel-Doe said the EBRD might also consider another possibility: If an investor buys a minority stake in BTC, the bank might buy the remaining 65 percent that is being offered for sale, and provide an option for a further purchase by the investor later. On Tuesday, Transport and Communications Minister Plamen Petrov said that apart from the EBRD, the World Bank’s investment arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) has expressed interest in joining the deal. Of some 10 investors that might be eying BTC, only Greece’s OTE has indicated it might bid, but said it was still waiting to see the exact terms. Petrov had said that Turkish land-line monopoly Turk Telekom had also expressed interest. Of some 10 investors that might be eying BTC, only Greece’s OTE has indicated it might bid, but said it was still waiting to see the exact terms. Petrov had said that Turkish land-line monopoly Turk Telekom had also expressed interest.

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