Qatar Telecom to raise Asiacell stake in Iraq share sale

Thu Jan 31, 2013 11:20am EST
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By Aseel Kami

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Qatar Telecom (Qtel) plans to raise its stake in Asiacell as part of the Iraqi unit's $1.35 billion share sale, a Baghdad bourse official said on Thursday, as the Gulf telco seeks greater control of its foreign affiliates.

Asiacell will be the first of Iraq's three mobile operators to carry out a listing, the first major offering since a U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

In the past year, Qtel has spent $2.16 billion to increase its holdings in Tunisiana and Kuwait's Wataniya to 90 percent or more, pointing to a strategy of tightening its hold over existing units rather than expanding its 17-country footprint across the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Muddying this approach has been Asiacell, Iraq's No.2 telecommunications operator and 53.9 percent owned by Qtel, which must offer a quarter of its shares for public sale as part of its license obligations.

The sale process is opaque and it is unclear whether Asiacell's shareholders would be selling their shares on a proportional basis.

The idea of selling would be at odds with a $1.5 billion deal struck in June by the former Qatar monopoly to up its stake in Asiacell to 60 percent from 30 percent.

Market sources said they expected Qtel to use the share sale to acquire the outstanding shares it still needs to meet its target.

"According to the information I have, Qtel will not sell its shares, it is a buyer," Layth Sulaiman, head of the ISX board of governors, told Reuters.   Continued...

A customer enters the Asiacell company headquarters in Baghdad December 30, 2012. REUTERS/Saad Shalash