Turkcell Confirms: Bulgaria's Vivacom Sale Failed
The creditors of the Bulgarian telecommunications operator Vivacom have given up on its sale, Turkish mobile phone operator Turkcell, which had emerged as the preferred buyer, announced, confirming earlier media reports.
"We received an official letter informing us that the sellers of BTC have aborted their efforts to find a buyer. Turkcell will continue to evaluate acquisition opportunities for similar buyouts," Chief Executive Officer Sureyya Ciliv said at a press conference.
Earlier this week media reports said the planned sale of Bulgaria's incumbent telco BTC has failed after its creditors rejected the offers of all three bidders, including Turkcell, the biggest Turkish mobile-phone company.
Turkcell emerged a month ago as the most likely buyer of the Bulgarian telco, but the deal collapsed after the Turkish operator demanded that a huge part of the price (from EUR 100 M to EUR 200 M) is deposited in an escrow account until the state settles its scores with BTC previous buyers, Capital weekly reported, citing insiders.
The Turkish company reportedly put in a bid of over EUR 870 M.
Earlier reports said the Turkcell valued Vivacom at about USD 1.4 B, but the Turkish company described the potential bid amount in the media as "groundless".
BTC's creditors, who put the company for sale, have described the other two bids – by Bulgaria's Corporate Commercial Bank and Icelandic businessman Thor Bjorgolfsson - as too low, the insiders said.
The creditors' decision is expected to be officially announced in a few days, according to the report.
Turkcell announced its decision to make offer for a 93.99% stake in the Bulgarian company, which operates under the brand name Vivacom, at the beginning of March in a statement to Istanbul Stock Exchange, becoming the only strategic investor in the tender.
Another three binding bids were submitted for Bulgaria's telecom Vivacom, but their amounts were not disclosed either.
Tsvetan Vassilev, the head of Bulgaria's Corporate Commercial Bank, and Icelandic businessman Thor Bjorgolfsson have made bids for Vivacom, heir to the state-owned Bulgarian Telecommunications Company (BTC).
The third bidder to meet the February 27 offer deadline was Pamplona Capital Management LLP, a London-based private equity firm.
Morgan Stanley was advising Vivacom's creditors to help sell the company.
Experts commented that the Turkish potential buyer felt uncertain because of Bulgaria's legal actions against Viva Ventures, a subsidiary of London-based equity fund Advent International, which acquired a 65% stake in the state Bulgarian Telecommunications Company (BTC), in a widely criticized deal in 2004.
Viva Ventures paid EUR 230 M for the purchase and another EUR 50 M for a license to establish a third mobile phone operator in Bulgaria. It also agreed to pay BGN 18 M to the Defense Ministry in the course of two years under a classified accord for the maintenance of secret defense communications spots and war-purpose equipments.
The company however has not transferred the payments.
Besides it is expected that a fourth trial may be in the offing over charges of breaching the so-called clawback agreement, which obliged Viva Ventures to pay EUR 78 M to the state in the case of BTC re-sale.
The deadline for submitting binding bids, initially set at February 17, was extended by ten days at the request of Turkcell, who needed more time to take a definitive decision.
Earlier this year reports emerged that Telekom Austria AG, which already owns Mobiltel in Bulgaria, may be interested in Vivacom sale, but the information was eventually denied.
Vivacom - formerly known as the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company (BTC) - has gone through a number of controversial privatization deals.
The long-drawn-out and widely criticized EUR 230 M sale deal for 65% stake in Bulgaria's telecom operator BTC was sealed at the end of February 2004 after nearly two years of procedural predicaments, legal and political battles.
Months later Icelandic businessman Thor Bjorgolfsson bought Viva's stake for EUR 300 M and resold it to the investment company AIG Central Europe for EUR 1.08 B.
AIG Investments acquired 65% of the former state-owned telecommunications firm in May 2007. Then in August of the same year it upped its investment to 90%.
Chinese telecoms and media tycoon Richard Li, chairman of Asian telco PCCW, inherited control of Vivacom in March 2010 as part of the acquisition of AIG Investments, a unit of the troubled US insurance group which spans asset management and private equity investments.
The unit was renamed Pinebridge Investments ahead of the takeover by Li's Pacific Century group.
Dubai-based Oger Telecom was the closest to taking over the management of the company following negotiations that dragged on for nearly half a year. The deal however failed because the final offer was not satisfactory, according to insiders.
The nation of 7.7 million people has three mobile operators, which are foreign owned. Mobiltel is controlled by Telekom Austria, while Globul is the local unit of Greece's OTE.
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