Egyptian telecoms giant, Orascom takes fight with Orange to France

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Egyptian telecoms operator, Orascom, is on the lookout for opportunities that might enable him gain a foothold in France: acquisitions, partnerships, mergers or an alliance with a candidate for a fourth mobile phone license … This is essentially what was indicated by Orascom Chairman and Egyptian billionaire, Naguib Sawiris, in an interview published Monday in Le Figaro. Orascom, involved in a fierce takeover battle with Orange (France Telecom) for the control of Mobinil in Egypt, has large investments in both Italy and Greece.

In an interview, Monday, with the French journal, Le Figaro, Naguib Sawiris, CEO of Orascom talked about his intention to invest in France: “France is a country with over 8 million North Africans, I think it makes corporate sense to move there, and there are many synergies to create.” According to the French journal, only eighteen months ago, the Egyptian group had wanted to “buy Bouygues Telecom (one of the three mobile phone operators in France, ndlr), have a stake in Vivendi and even France Telecom”.

While admitting that acquisitions have become extremely expensive, Mr. Sawiris also insisted that “Orascom has the means to achieve its ambitions: we have recovered more than 2 billion euros from the sale of our investments in Hutchinson Telecom and 1,2 billion from the sale of our subsidiary in Iraq (…) We are open to all combinations: acquisitions, mergers, partnerships …” he said. Mr. Sawiris’ plan does not exclude an alliance with a potential candidate for a fourth mobile phone license in France. [[The french government is expected to launch tenders for the allocation of a fourth mobile telephone license, by the end of July. In addition to Bouygues, Orange and SFR, a fourth is expected to enter the French telecom market.]]

Fierce battle with France Telecom in Egypt

Naguib Sawiris’ interview with Le Figaro, comes at a time when his group is involved in a fierce battle with Orange (France Telecom) in Egypt for the control of Mobinil. Mobinil is the number one mobile operator in Egypt with 22 million subscribers, of which 71.25% is owned by the French group and 28.75% by Orascom. The two have been trying to take over Mobinil since 2007. Last March, the Court of Arbitration of the Chamber of Commerce, after Orascom had filed a suit, ordered the Egyptian group to give up their share in Mobinil to France Telecom for a meagre 530 million euros. Mobinil is a holding company that owns 51% of ECMS (Egyptian Company for Mobile Services), their operating company. The court ordered France Telecom to launch a takeover bid for minority shareholders in ECMS, to enable them take effective control of Mobinil.

So far, the Egyptian Capital Market Authority (CMA) has rejected three offers made by the French operator to minority shareholders of ECMS. – CMA, has since July 1 been replaced by the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority – CMA’s reason for rejecting the bid is due to a pittance offered by France Telecom. Arguing in support of the principle of equitable treatment of all shareholders, the Capital Market Authority indicated that the tariff proposed by France Telecom should be equal to the exact amount that was fixed for purchase of Mobinil.

While awaiting a better offer from the French group, the case remains pending.

Orascom group has 100 million subscribers in Africa and the Middle East and also has large investments in Italy and Greece, where it owns of Wind and Wind Hellas, respectively.

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