Bulgaria Defeated in Court by Viva Ventures over Telco Deal

Business | May 16, 2012, Wednesday // 17:29| Views: | Comments: 0
Bulgaria: Bulgaria Defeated in Court by Viva Ventures over Telco Deal A file photo dated June 11, 2004 shows Joanna James (L), Advent International Managing Director, and Nikolay Vassilev, Bulgaria’s Deputy Prime Minister, marking the formal finalization of the sale of 65% stake in the Bulgarian telecom. Photo by SPA

Bulgaria has lost a lawsuit 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.

The International Arbitration Court in Paris ruled that Viva Ventures has abided by its commitments to the telco workforce, as envisaged in the contract for its sale.

Bulgaria sought to be paid BGN 60 M in damages by Viva Ventures.

This is one of three lawsuits that Bulgaria has raised against Viva Ventures.

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 a single payment to the ministry so far, which is the reason why it has been given a last notice by the agency for privatization and post-privatization control.

The other trial is on 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.

Experts have commented that Bulgaria's legal battles with Viva Ventures made uncertainly earlier this year Turkish mobile phone operator Turkcell, which had emerged as the preferred buyer for Vivacom, BTC heir.

Tthe 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, according to media reports.

Vivacom - formerly known as the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company (BTC) - has gone through a number of controversial privatization deals.

The long-drawn-out 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.

The BTC sale was among the top priorities of Bulgaria's centrist government of former king Simeon Saxe-Coburg, which took over in July 2001.

In 2000, the right-wing government of Ivan Kostov declined to sell BTC to the sole bidder consortium of Greek OTE and Dutch KPN which was offering USD 610 M for a 51%, in a package with a mobile licence.

The license, the country's second for a digital mobile telephone operator, was won separately by OTE in a tender in 2000 for USD 135 M.

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Tags: management, Thor Bjorgolfsson, Oger Telecom, AIG, PCCW, BTC, Bulgarian Telecommunications Company, Richard Li, Vivacom, Telekom Austria, turkey, Turkcell, Corporate Commercial Bank, Tsvetan Vassilev, Mobiltel, OTE, Globul, Pamplona, Viva Ventures
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