Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Serbian government sells Mobi63

Telenor beats off Telecom Austria to become new owner of Mobi63. In a bidding process covered live by Radio Television Serbia the Norwegian company and Telecom Austrias traded bids but the Norwegian company came out on top.

The future of the company formerly known as Mobtel has been in the balance for some time. Firstly there was the dispute over the ownership structure that was being mulled over by European arbitrators. Then there was the alleged deal that former owner Bogoljub Karic made with Russian businessmen on selling his company BK Trade - which owned a reported 70 percent share of Mobtel. The Russian bid vanished and this quickly metamorphasised into the same deal but with Austrian 'freelancers' Martin Schlaff and company. Schlaff and his consortium specialise in the purchase of difficult companies (particularly in Eastern Europe) which they then sell on making a few million Euros profit into the bargain. The advantage in hiring somebody like Schlaff is that it prevents companies from getting their hands dirty or from getting their fingers burnt. Anybody interested in Schlaffs dubious past should check this:


In the case of Mobtel Karic and Schlaff signed a secret agreement that (we presume) covered every eventuality or possibility. Nobody is certain how much Schlaff paid for BK Trade although 100 million is mentioned. In the end it turned out that Schlaff only had ownership of 20 percent of Mobtel (mobi63) shares. Alongside that the Serbian government promised Schalff that he would be given a fair chance to purchase the rest of Mobi63.

(The 20 percent share was the result of the decision of the Serbian government to finally pursue Karic for a number of infractions which Mobtels management committee had made. Those more sympathetic to Karic would say he was a victim of politicians who were afraid that he had grown too powerful. Both views have merit. )

In the end the sale of Mobi63 surprised most observers.
Firstly it was expected that Schlaff and Telecom Austria would see off the competition - some were concerned that the Serbian government had met with Schlaff, Austrian officials (Telecom Austria is partly owned by the Austrian government) and Telecom Austria representatives. This led to the suspicion that somehow the Serbian government would favour the Austrian bid. This belief proved false.
Secondly the sum of 1.53 billion was at the high end of the scale. Most predicted that the company would be sold in the range of 900 million to 1.2 billion Euros.
Thirdly it was clear that the Austrians deliberately tabled a low initial bid knowing that they could match any bid made and lose out because of their low initial bid. In practice this ensured that they would receive more for their 20 percent share of Mobi63 sold to them by Karic.

From a Serbian perspective the sale is good news since about 1.1 billion Euros will go to the Serbian government. (The remaining sum will go to Schlaff / Telecom Austria.)
This means more money will be earmarked for the projects of the national investment strategy.
Money that many say which belongs to the Serbian people but was stolen from them by the Milosevic era oligarchs.
The process itself was open, transparent and whilst it might not encourage new investment it shows that companies that want to invest in Serbia do not need to grease palms in order to receive fair treatment. (Even if corruption remains a problem in Serbia)

And what do Karic and Schlaff have to say about it? The latter claims he was 'conned' by the former. The former says that Mobi63 was worth 3 billion Euros. Does anybody truly believe either claim?

Of more concern is the potential case that Karic could have were a sympathetic government to come to power in Serbia. Some legal experts claim he has a case. On the other hand if Karic were to try to receive financial compensation at a later point it would likely go down very badly with Serbian voters. Karic would be more inclined to trade this potential legal route for dropping charges against him and his family for the various financial misproprieties they committed over the years.

One additional detail which makes the case more interesting - the introduction of a third mobile operator on the Serbian market. The Serbian government has confirmed that there will be a third operator but there is a little confusion concerning the time scale. Some observers thought that the Serbian government had promised that the winner of Mobi63 would be granted a year or so before the license for a third operator would be issued. This, it was thought, would bump the price up of Mobi63 a little more. However, government ministers are giving contradictory statements to the media on this.
Some say that those interested in the license can put in an application immediately and that within 6 months they will be competing for customers. Others say that part of the deal signed states that Mobi63 will have a year breathing space before a new competitor challenges.

Either way the minimum price for the license will be set at 320 million Euros. Telecom Austria has already stated its interest.


Anonymous Poka said...

Biti vizionar je danas zabranjeno. Svako ko misli i ima ideju je proteran. Svako.


8:40 pm  

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