The Lebanese government expects to raise as much as USD7 billion from the sale of the country’s two mobile operators, Alfa and MTC Touch, in a sale planned for September or October this year, the Telecommunications Minister said on Friday. ‘Our valuation estimate is USD2.5 billion to USD3.5 billion for each licence…We are preparing for eventual international bids,’ Marwan Hamadeh told Reuters in an interview, adding that he had already been approached by major European and Middle Eastern firms. Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase have been named as lead managers for the planned deal. Lebanon had around 1.178 million mobile phone users at the end of September 2006, in a population of roughly 3.7 million. The minister said he expected user numbers to increase to three million in the next three to five years. The gross revenue of the telecommunications sector in Lebanon amounts to about USD1 billion a year, he said. Hamadeh hopes the privatisation will lead to the growth and development of the mobile sector by allowing more competitive services; current laws allow no price changes until the two operators are privatised. The country’s post-paid mobile tariffs are among the most expensive in the Middle East, more than three times the average in Egypt, for instance.