Telenor wins Serbian cellco auction

1 Aug 2006

Over eight rounds of bidding Norwegian telecommunications company Telenor outbid Mobikom of Austria, Orascom of Egypt and a consortium of Austrian investors to take control of Serbian wireless operator Mobi 063. The winning EUR1.51 billion (USD1.9 billion) bid outstripped even government expectations; privatisation officials said they had expected the auction to top EUR1 billion (including the EUR220 million licence fee), but had not envisaged bidding ‘going this high’. Telenor – which already has a presence in neighbouring Montenegro – has won 100% ownership and a 10-year operating licence.

Martin Schlaff, head of an Austrian private-investment group that had held 30% of Mobi 063, later said he would have liked to have held on to his stake, but had agreed with the government (and owner of the remaining equity) to let its stake go if bids topped EUR1.1 billion. According to the terms of the sale, proceeds will be split 70/30 between the government and the Schlaff Group (excluding the licence fee, which will go directly into state coffers).

The Schlaff group initially bought into Mobi – known until four months ago as Mobtel Serbia – as majority owner, buying 51% from a family company led by Serbian entrepreneur Boguljub Karic. Mr Karic fell foul of the authorities and fled the country earlier this year to avoid bribery charges. The government – his co-owner and supposed partner – later accused him of hiding dividends from their joint venture. In April, the state reached a debt settlement with Mr Schlaff, which saw the Austrian group’s equity participation reduced, but which reopened the way for re-privatisation under the new Mobi 063 brand.

Serbia, Telenor Group, Telenor Serbia