On Monday three international telcos will compete in an auction to purchase a 70% stake in Mobi063 (formerly Mobtel), the Serbian wireless operator. The trio taking part are Mobilkom (part of Telekom Austria), Norway’s Telenor and Egypt’s Orascom. The starting price will be the highest amount offered by the interested bidders in a pre-auction; that price will then be increased by EUR20 million in every subsequent round. According to the tender, the sale price will be no less than EUR800 million.
Mobi063 was founded as a partnership between Serbia’s state-run Telekom and billionaire businessman Bogoljub Karic. The entrepreneur’s original stake of 51% later came under scrutiny amid accusations that he had dodged taxes, hidden profits from his partner and made a number of allegedly damaging and illegal contracts. While that dispute awaited arbitration before a court in Switzerland, in May 2005 Karic quietly sold his shares to an Austrian consortium led by investor Martin Schlaff; he later quit the country amid fears that he was to be arrested. In December that year the authorities took control of Mobtel and subsequently forged an agreement with Schlaff to clear Mobtel’s outstanding debt of EUR90 million to creditors as well as EUR30 million owed to Ericsson for equipment. As a result of the dealings Mobtel became 70% owned by state-run Telekom with the remainder held by the Schlaff Group; it was subsequently rebranded Mobi063.