Ex Bulgarian Minister Tipped to Head Telco Vivacom

Business | August 27, 2012, Monday // 17:54
Bulgaria: Ex Bulgarian Minister Tipped to Head Telco Vivacom Plamen Petrov, who served as Minister of Transport and Communications in the centrist government of former king Simeon Saxe-Coburg, was working as financial director at Mtel just until last month. Photo by Sofia Photo Agency

A former transport minister is most likely to head Bulgaria's debt-ridden telco Vivacom after it is taken over by local lender Corporate Commercial Bank and Russian VTB Bank, according to reports.

Plamen Petrov, who served as Minister of Transport and Communications in the centrist government of former king Simeon Saxe-Coburg, was working as financial director at Mtel, Bulgaria's first mobile operator and Vivacom rival, just until last month.

Insiders, cited by local Trud daily, said Petrov quit Mtel following insurmountable disagreements with the mobile operator's CEO Andreas Maierhofer and was eager to prove his skills at a rival company.

Plamen Petrov was not available for comment.

The other potential candidate to take over the helm of Vivacom is Alexander Manolev, unconfirmed reports say. Until a year ago he served as head of the Board of Directors of Bulgaria's tobacco monopoly Bulgartgabac, but interestingly he also has a managerial stint at Mtel in his professional background.

The name of Vivacom new executive director will be known in two months at the latest.

The tie-in between Bulgarian lender Corporate Commercial Bank and Russian peer VTB Capital submitted a bid for the debt-ridden Bulgarian telco Vivacom at the end of July and creditors accepted the offered terms a week later.

CCBank holds nearly half of the deposits by state-run companies and is widely known as the government's darling.

Hong Kong telecoms and media tycoon Richard Li's PineBridge Investments currently owns a 94% stake in BTC, which operates under the brand name Vivacom, while the rest is floated on the Bulgarian bourse.

BTC announced at the end of last month it has received notification from the Royal Bank of Scotland on the conditions for the sale of BTC to two financial investors.

The lenders were expected to hold restructuring talks, which aimed at securing better terms and reducing the debt, which is burdening BTC, its parent company NEF Telecom Bulgaria and the holding company that owns NEF Telecom.

Under the proposed restructuring, CCBank and VTB Bank have offered to pay EUR 130 M in cash to senior lender for a majority stake, with EUR 588 M of reinstated loans.

A minority stake in BTC will be owned by the senior secured creditors.

If all options are exercised, senior lenders will be able to exit their loan positions after investors pay a total of EUR 617 M.

The price is a fraction of the EUR 1.4 B Turkey's Turkcell was reportedly willing to fork out for Vivacom earlier this year.

In April 2011 Turkcell emerged 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.

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, described the other two bids – by Bulgaria's Corporate Commercial Bank and Icelandic businessman Thor Bjorgolfsson - as too low, insiders said.

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%. AIG was renamed PineBridge Investments ahead of its acquisition by Richard Li's Pacific Century Group (PCG) in 2010.

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.

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Tags: Russian, Bulgarian, PineBridge Investments, VTB Capital, VTB Bank, Bulgaria, mobile operator, Pamplona, Globul, OTE, Mobiltel, Tsvetan Vassilev, Corporate Commercial Bank, Turkcell, turkey, Telekom Austria, Vivacom, Richard Li, Bulgarian Telecommunications Company, BTC, mobile market, Plamen Petrov

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