Friday, February 19, 2010

Etisalat interested in Algerian market

Emirates Telecommunications Corp (Etisalat) would enter the Algerian market if the right opportunity came up, its chairman said.

"We are interested in the Algerian market when we see the right opportunity. No doubt that choosing a telecom partner is an Algerian government decision," Mohammad Omran said in remarks emailed to Reuters.

Omran was quoted by United Arab Emirates (UAE) daily The National on Thursday as saying the firm was interested in buying Djezzy, the Algerian unit of Egypt's Orascom Telecom.

The Algerian government wants Orascom to relinquish ownership of Algeria's No.1 mobile phone operator, government and finance industry sources told Reuters this week.

Omran said relations between the UAE and Algeria were "very distinguished" and the North African country had "opened many doors to many investment opportunities" in various sectors.

Orascom is currently appealing a $597 million tax bill Algeria says Djezzy owes. It is also in the process of raising $800 million via a rights issue to cover any potential cash shortfall.

Orascom Telecom could secure $6 billion to 7 billion if it chooses to sell Djezzy, but might have to accept far less if forced out by the government, analysts told Reuters on Wednesday.

Etisalat, the Gulf region's second-largest telecommunications firm by market value, has been aggressively expanding outside the UAE since its monopoly there was broken by Dubai-based du in 2007.

The company said earlier that there were six markets in the Middle East and North Africa that it was investigating for both acquisitions or new licences within markets that are underserved by phone services.

"Etisalat is in an excellent position - financially and operationally to capitalise on these opportunities," Omran said in the statement, without giving further details.

Etisalat, which this week said it had crossed the 100 million subscriber mark, operates in 18 countries, stretching from Tanzania to Indonesia and including Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

The firm submitted a bid in July for a licence in Libya and has previously indicated its interest in acquiring a company in Iraq and bidding for licences in Lebanon and Syria. It failed last year in a bid to take a stake in Meditel, Morocco's second-largest telecommunications' firm and had its licence withdrawn in Iran.

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