Etisalat may bid for Kuwaiti telco

UAE operator says bid for stake in Kuwait's third mobile phone operator 'makes a lot of a commercial sense'.

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By  Reuters Published  August 23, 2007

UAE operator Etisalat said on Thursday it was interested in bidding for a stake in Kuwait's third mobile phone operator to tap demand for telecoms in the Middle East's fourth-largest oil producer.

Kuwait's government has invited companies to express an interest in bidding for a 26% stake in the operator that it is setting up, by a September 7 deadline.

"We are very interested in bidding," said Jamal Al-Jarwan, general manager of international business at state-owned Etisalat, the third-largest Arab telecom provider by market value.

"It makes a lot of a commercial sense for us to have operations in many countries, especially in the Middle East... Kuwait's GDP per capita is high," he said by telephone.

Etisalat chairman Mohammed Omran told Reuters last month the company was evaluating the Kuwaiti invitation, though had not make a decision about bidding.

Still, it is not clear the Kuwaiti government will allow foreign companies to compete for the stake, Jarwan said.

Kuwait's Al-Seyassah newspaper said on Monday the Kuwaiti government had decided against allowing foreign firms to take part.

On Thursday, Kuwait's Al-Wasat newspaper reported as many as 11 foreign and 14 local companies, including Saudi Telecom (STC) and Egypt's Orascom Telecom, were considering competing for the stake.

Others include Oman Telecommunications (Omantel), National Bank of Kuwait and Kuwait Finance House (KFH), the newspaper reported, without saying how it got the information.

Kuwait's Global Investment House, Bahrain's operator Batelco and Commercial Bank of Kuwait (CBK) may also bid, the newspaper said.

A CBK official, who did not want to be identified, said the bank was preparing a bid in partnership with Noor Financial and a telecom operator he would not identify.

Kuwait's government will sell 50% of the planned operator in an initial public offering, 26% to an operator and keep the rest.

Kuwait has two mobile phone networks, one run by Mobile Telecommunications (MTC) and the other by National Mobile Telecommunications (Wataniya), which is controlled by Qatar Telcommunications (Qtel).

Hatim Al-Gammal, head of investor relations at Orascom, and a spokesman of NBK declined to comment. A spokesman for Batelco could not immediately comment.

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