OT says MTN offered $7.8 bln for Algeria unit, eyes Syria

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BEIRUT: South Africa’s MTN has offered to pay $7.8 billion for Orascom Telecom’s lucrative Algerian unit Djezzy, Orascom’s chairman said on Wednesday, putting a price to a deal blocked by Algeria.

The Egyptian mobile firm said last week it would enter talks to sell Djezzy to the Algerian government after weeks of pressure from Algerian officials, who said the state had the right to bid on the unit before any foreign buyer.

"The offer we have from MTN was for $7.8 billion," Naguib Sawiris told Reuters Television in Beirut, referring to the Djezzy unit.

A spokeswoman for MTN declined to comment.

Sawiris also said he believed a meeting held between the Algerian and Egyptian presidents at a gathering in France this week would improve the atmosphere around the talks.

"I think the fact that President (Hosni) Mubarak and President (Abdelaziz) Bouteflika met and they had a good meeting in Nice, I think it will have a good effect on the mood of the discussions," he told Reuters.

"I hope that they (the Algerian government) will negotiate in good faith," he added.

Djezzy was the main component in a possible broader deal that would have made MTN the world’s third-biggest mobile firm if all of Orascom’s assets were included.

The Algerian veto threw doubt on the chance of a larger deal going through, but talks over the sale of some Orascom assets to MTN have nevertheless continued between the two firms.

Asked about the status of the talks with MTN, widely expected by analysts to exclude Djezzy, Sawiris said: "It’s not yet settled, we’ve been in discussions."

Sawiris said on Monday the firm would have preferred to stay in Algeria, where its unit leads the mobile market by subscribers, but had been obliged to negotiate its sale.

Orascom is also interested in entering the Syrian market, Sawiris said.

"I am now optimistic about Syria’s future and personally any chance I get to return to Syria, I will go back," he said at a lecture in Beirut.

"Now there is no entrance fee, there is no prohibition on who to work with, and they (the Syrian authorities) understand how the economy can develop a country," he said. –Additional reporting by David Dolan in Johannseburg

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By Reuters
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