Alfa emerges as favourite for Mobtel stake

18 Mar 2005

The Russian investment group Alfa Telecom has revealed that it is in talks with the Serbian government about the possible acquisition of its stake in Serb cellular operator Mobtel. According to Dow Jones Newswires, the Serbian authorities had been expected to launch an open tender for the stake, with companies such as Matav of Hungary and Austria’s mobilkom thought to be interested. It now appears, however, that the government is considering a direct sale to Alfa, which already has interests in Russia (Vimpelcom, MegaFon) and Ukraine (Kievstar).

The actual size of the stake which is being sold is not known as the Serb government is in dispute with Mobtel’s other shareholder, Bogoljub Karic. He claims he controls 51%, but the government say that his stake has been reduced to 47% as it has made additional investments. The matter is currently before a Swiss court. Besides chasing the government’s stake, Alfa is reportedly also in negotiations with Karic about the acquisition of his interest. Mobtel has around 1.4 million subscribers and controls around 34% of the overall Serbia and Montenegro cellular market.

Separately, the Slovenian cellular operator Mobitel has been given clearance to begin the construction of a GSM network in the province of Kosovo, in the south of Serbia and Montenegro. Mobitel had been awarded an operating concession last October but the UN revoked its licence, saying the auction process was flawed. A court in Pristina has now ordered the Kosovan Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (ART) to reinstate Mobitel’s licence within 15 days and ART is not expected to appeal the decision.

Serbia, Telenor Serbia