The Algerian government is poised to make an offer to buy Orascom Telecom’s Djezzy mobile phone unit by the middle of next year, Reuters reports, citing an unnamed Telecommunications Ministry source. The hotly contested unit has been the source of much speculation in recent years, and came to the fore once again following October’s agreement between Russia’s Vimpelcom and Egyptian entrepreneur Naguib Sawiris under which Vimpelcom would take a majority stake in most of Orascom Telecom’s units, originally slated to include its most valuable asset Djezzy. Provisional negotiations between Vimpelcom and Algiers over the potential privatisation of Djezzy stalled, and the Algerian government forced Orascom’s hand by hitting the telecoms firm with substantial back taxes. Last week Algiers demanded a figure of around USD230 million for the tax years ending 2008 and 2009; Orascom has called the reassessment ‘completely unfounded’. In November Algeria’s Finance Ministry shortlisted ten firms to provide it with a valuation of Djezzy, with the results anticipated to be available before end-2010. The Algerian telecoms official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters: ‘I think Algeria will make an offer to Djezzy by the end of June 2011’.
Although Vimpelcom has expressed its desire to acquire Djezzy throughout, its plan suffered a major setback yesterday when Norwegian shareholder Telenor confirmed that it is not willing to back the acquisition. Telenor, which holds a 36% voting stake in Vimpelcom, is generally perceived as taking a more cautious approach towards international expansion than its co-shareholder, Alfa Group, and its reluctance to push through the Djezzy deal has been rumoured for some time. Telenor spokesman Dag Melgaard commented: ‘In our capacity as a shareholder of Vimpelcom Ltd., we do not believe this transaction makes strategic or financial sense for Vimpelcom’s shareholders’. In a subsequent press statement Vimpelcom confirmed: ‘Six of nine directors, including all three independent directors and the three Altimo-nominated directors, voted in favour of the transaction, with the Telenor-nominated directors voting against the transaction. The supervisory board did not approve an amended shareholder agreement, or vote on other shareholder-related agreements due to Telenor’s publicly stated position that, in its capacity as a shareholder of Vimpelcom, it does not support the transaction’.