ROME: Telecommunications mogul Naguib Sawiris is under investigation for alleged corruption in a probe over the 2005 acquisition of Italian mobile phone operator Wind SpA, Italy’s financial police said Thursday.
The probe concerns consultancy fees that were allegedly paid during the sale of a majority stake in Wind, which Sawiris’ Weather Investments consortium bought from Italian power company Enel SpA, said Lt. Col. Agostino Langellotti, of the financial police in Rome.
Sawiris, who is also chairman of Orascom Telecom Holding, the Middle East’s largest telecommunications operator by market capitalization, is the lead investor in the consortium, which bought control of Wind in 2005 for ?4.8 billion.
The transaction valued the Italian mobile and fixed-line phone company at ?12.1 billion ($18.3 billion).
A total of 11 people, including Enel CEO Fulvio Conti, are under investigation in the probe centering on more than ?90 million ($135 million) which prosecutors believe were kickbacks masked as consultancy fees, Langellotti said.
Italian and British authorities were conducting searches in Rome, Milan and London in connection with the investigation, he said without elaborating.
Enel’s board said in a statement that it would continue supporting Conti and that the company was cooperating with the investigation. It added that Wind had been sold to the highest bidder and no corruption was involved.
”I have nothing to hide,” Conti said in the statement. ”The sale of Wind was done in plain sight and underwent all internal and external checks.”Phones at Wind were not answered Thursday afternoon and, in Egypt, Orascom communications director Sabrine El Hossamy declined to comment on the case.
“We can’t comment on the issue now. We will reveal news if anything unfolds, she told Daily News Egypt.
The Sawiris empire is valued at more than $20 billion, making the family the richest in Egypt, according to Forbes magazine’s annual list of the wealthy.Founded by father Onsi Sawiris in the 1950s, the Orascom group began as a construction company. It now extends into telecom, with Naguib Sawiris’ Orascom, a construction consortium led by his brother Nassef Sawiris and a hotel group headed by the third brother, Sameh Sawiris. -AP Writer Alfred de Montesquiou and Daily News Egypt reporter Sherine El Madany contributed to this report.