SIDI ABDALLAH, Algeria: The Algerian government said on Monday Egyptian Orascom Telecom should not try to sell its Algerian unit to anyone other than the Algerian government.
Orascom Telecom had been in talks on selling some or all of its assets to South Africa’s MTN, but this deal was put in doubt after Algeria blocked the sale of Djezzy, Orascom’s lucrative Algerian unit, and said it wanted to buy the business itself.
"We do not accept any talks between Orascom and other operators, whatever the result may be," Algerian Telecommunications Minister Hamid Bessalah said when asked what the government would do if talks with MTN continue.
Orascom Telecom’s global depositary receipts on the London Stock Exchange were down 3.52 percent by 1351 GMT, while the STOXX Europe 600 Telecommunications index was up 1.14 percent. The firm’s Cairo-traded shares did not move on the news because trading on the Cairo stock exchange had closed for the day.
"Orascom Telecom must first announce it is no longer in talks with other operators and state its intention to sell (Algerian unit) Djezzy to the Algerian state," he said.
The minister declined to say what price the Algerian government was prepared to pay Orascom Telecom for Djezzy.
Asked if the government planned to later sell it on to another operator, he said: "The answer to this question will come later."
Speaking to reporters in the town of Sidi Abdallah, about 40 km (25 miles) west of the Algerian capital, Bessalah said the government had been in touch with Djezzy executives about the unit’s future.
But he said there had not so far been contacts with Orascom Telecom’s management, describing this as the next step.
Some analysts have cast doubt on Algeria’s ability to manage Djezzy if it takes over ownership, but the minister said there was a plan on how to do this. "This will be announced at the right moment," he said.