Econet Wireless-Bharti Airtel case adjourned to October

7 Jun 2012

Econet Wireless has announced in a press release on its website that a judge at the Lagos High Court has adjourned the proceedings of its case against Bharti Airtel to 4 October 2012. In February this year a tribunal set up by the United Nations Commission for International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) ordered Bharti to pay compensation to Econet Wireless, after the Federal High Court of Nigeria reinstated Econet’s 5% shareholding in Airtel Nigeria, claiming that the stake was unfairly cancelled, thus rendering any decision made since then without Econet void. The Indian telecoms operator inherited the ongoing legal case as part of its USD9 billion acquisition of Zain’s Africa operations in June 2010, including 65% of Zain Nigeria (since rebranded Airtel Nigeria). Econet was a founding shareholder in Airtel Nigeria when the cellco was established as Econet Wireless Nigeria (EWN) in 2001, and claims its 5% stake was cancelled following a takeover by Vodacom of South Africa in 2003. EWN was subsequently renamed Vee Networks and its brand name changed to reflect its new South African owner, but Vodacom pulled out of its contract soon after, citing ‘irregularities’ in the payment of the brokerage fees. Celtel International, a division of Kuwaiti firm Zain, then purchased 65% of the company in May 2006, a move that was disputed by Econet Wireless, which claimed its pre-emption rights were breached. Then, in 2009 Econet Wireless started moves to block the sale of Zain’s interests in Nigeria to Bharti Airtel until a ruling on the dispute over ownership of the company was issued, but the takeover by the Indian firm was concluded in June 2010. In its submission to the Lagos High Court, Econet Wireless said that it will submit a claim to the tribunal for equitable compensation and damages of USD3.1 billion.

Nigeria, Airtel Nigeria, Bharti Airtel, Econet Group (incl. Liquid Intelligent Technologies)