Orascom says no France Telecom reply to talks offer

UPDATE 2: Orascom chief urges Egypt's regulator to release details of FT offer.

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By  Alastair Sharp Published  May 20, 2009

France Telecom (FT) has not replied to Orascom Telecom's offer of direct talks to resolve their dispute over their stakes in Egyptian mobile operator Mobinil, the chairman of Orascom told Reuters on Wednesday.

Naguib Sawiris also said Egypt's market regulator should release details of the latest tender offer from FT for the minority interests in Mobinil and let Orascom shares resume trading on the Egyptian stock exchange.

The two firms own a joint holding company which owns a 51 percent stake in Mobinil, while Orascom also holds a 20 percent direct stake in the firm, which is Egypt's largest mobile operator by subscribers.

France Telecom's finance chief Gervais Pellissier later told a Reuters summit that the company had offered around 1.5 billion euros ($2.05 billion) to buy the remaining stake in Mobinil, including a 20 percent direct stake held by Orascom.

At that price, the offer equates to around 234 Egyptian pounds ($41.60) per share, according to Reuters data.

"It's not clear that the regulator will approve this price or not," said Nemat Choucri, a telecoms analyst at Cairo-based HC Securities.

Asked whether Orascom was in direct talks with FT, Sawiris said: "No, we have offered that and they have not responded. They have not provided (details) to us or to the market or to anybody."
Orascom and France Telecom have been locked in a dispute since 2007 over their stakes in Mobinil. They took their dispute to arbitration but have disagreed over the ruling.

On April 5, the arbitration panel told FT to buy Oracom's 28.75 percent stake in the holding company for the equivalent of 273.26 Egyptian pounds ($49) per share. The deal would have allowed Orascom to raise about $1.7 billion.

But Orascom - and the Egyptian regulator - said the ruling meant France Telecom would be obliged to make an offer for the remaining shares in Mobinil at a similar price, which the French firm has since disputed.

On Tuesday, Orascom filed to rescind the share sale, saying France Telecom had not met the conditions for the deal.

Meanwhile, Sawiris said Orascom's hopes of acquiring a stake in Morocco's Meditel had lessened as there were higher bids from other parties.

"(Two other bids) were quite high compared to our offer and, therefore, our hopes of executing that transaction are dimmer now," he said, adding that the firm was not willing to increase its offer.

The UAE's Etisalat told Reuters last week it would bid for a stake in Meditel, Morocco's second-largest telecoms company. 

Sources familiar with the matter said earlier this month that first round bids had been submitted for Portugal Telecom's 32 percent stake in Meditel, which the sources valued at around 300 million to 400 million euros ($409.1 million to $545.4 million). (Reuters)

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