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Iran begins sale of state telecoms stake

Gov't puts 5% of Telecomminication Company up for sale at $340mn in 'symbolic act'.

Iran started the sale of a five percent stake in its state-owned telecommunications company on Tehran's Stock Exchange on Saturday, as part of a wider plan to breathe life into its economy.

Iran is selling 2.293 billion shares of its Iran Telecommunication Company (ITC) and the shares were valued at 1,500 Iranian rials each, Hashem Boozarjoomehr, a member of the stock exchange board, told newswire Reuters.

That would value the offered stake in the company at just over $340 million. It was not clear whether all of the shares were sold on Saturday.

Past sales of state assets have drawn limited interest from the private sector. The sale of the minority stake in ITC leaves state control intact, giving no mandate for the kind of restructuring private investors would like to see, analysts say.

"The sale of these shares is a symbolic act and not real privatisation," analyst Saeed Leylaz told Reuters on Saturday.

The Islamic state tried to shake up its lumbering economy in 2004 by overturning an article in the constitution which decreed that core infrastructure should remain state-run. Iran has been seeking to sell off many state firms, though not in the upstream oil and gas industry. Progress has been slow.

The ITC offering has been delayed for months. ITC provides all of Iran's landlines. It competes in the mobile service sector with MTN Group, sub-Saharan Africa's biggest mobile telephone operator.

Boozarjoomehr also said foreigners could buy ITC shares through brokers but were required to keep their capital in the Islamic state for three years.

Foreign investment in Iran has slowed as the United Nations has slapped three rounds of sanctions on Iran since 2006 for refusing to halt sensitive nuclear work which the West believes is aimed at building atomic bombs. Tehran says its nuclear activities are peaceful and aimed at generating electricity. (Reuters)