ECONOMY

Sofia asks bidders for Bulgartabac to wait longer after court hitch

SOFIA- Bulgaria yesterday asked bidders for state tobacco monopoly Bulgartabak Holding to extend the validity of their offers by two months in a move signaling that the key sell-off was unlikely to be closed this year. The agency said in a statement it had asked all four candidates that placed final offers for Bulgartabak in July to respond by November 19, when the current validity of their bids expired. The Bulgartabak sale, whose completion is among the reformist government’s main economic goals for this year, was suspended by a supreme court in September following an appeal by three failed bidders against the privatization procedure. The Administrative Supreme Court last month annulled the agency’s decision to name a Deutsche Bank-backed consortium as exclusive buyer of 80 percent of Bulgartabak for 110 million euros ($110.99 million). The court said the agency broke the law by not asking Bulgartabak bidders to improve their final offers, while the agency said there were no grounds for seeking improved bids. The agency is now appealing against the court’s decision in front of an extended supreme court panel, which is due to rule on the case on November 29 and whose ruling is final. Under local legislation, the Privatization Agency may request one-off improvement of the final offers in two cases: if it finds all offers unsatisfactory or if there is a change in the financial and legal state of the company being privatized. In August the privatization agency named the Deutsche Bank-backed consortium of Sofia-based Tobacco Capital Partners and Dutch firm Clar Innis as the exclusive buyer. The other three bidders – Russia’s Metatabak consortium, Vienna-based consortium Tobacco Holding GmbH and Russia’s Rosbulgartabak – have challenged the procedure and criticized the agency’s decision not to allow them to improve their offers. A previous attempt to sell Bulgartabak failed in 2000 when it attracted no bids at all.