March 30, 2015 / 9:34 AM / 3 years ago

Slovenian PM tells defense minister to quit in Telekom row

LJUBLJANA (Reuters) - Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar told his defense minister to quit in a row over the sale of state-owned telecoms operator Telekom Slovenia that risks delaying the privatization.

Slovenia's Prime Minister Miro Cerar arrives at a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, March 19, 2015. REUTERS/Eric Vidal

Cerar said on Monday after a meeting of his coalition that he would ask parliament to dismiss Janko Veber unless he resigned by Tuesday for ordering the army’s secret service to analyze the possible security implications of the privatization.

Cerar insisted the sale — potentially the most lucrative in a raft of privatization designed to shore up Slovenia’s finances — would continue as planned.

Veber is a deputy leader of the center-left Social Democrats, the smallest party in Cerar’s ruling coalition. The party generally opposes the sale of big, successful state assets such as Telekom under an overhaul of Slovenia’s economy, which narrowly avoided an international bailout for its banks in December 2013.

Cerar’s center-left coalition, which took over in September after a snap election, holds 52 seats in a 90-seat parliament and would just keep a majority even if the six Social Democrats with seats quit the coalition.

“I expect the Social Democrats will remain in the coalition but Cerar is in a comfortable position because he has majority even without them,” Radio Slovenia political analyst Tanja Staric told Reuters.

She said, however, that the development would certainly delay the sale of Telekom Slovenia, which had been expected to be completed within weeks.

“There is even a chance that Telekom will not be sold at all but it will definitely not be sold before the political stability is re-established,” Staric said.

Shares of Telekom closed 3.62 percent lower on Monday at 133 euros.

“I do not expect a major fall in Telekom shares providing the privatization continues,” said Saso Stanovnik, chief economist at investment firm Alta Invest. “If the privatization is called off, however, the shares would fall to 100 euros.”

Telekom, with market capitalization of about 902 million euros, is the largest of 15 firms that were earmarked for privatization in 2013. So far three of those have been sold. The government says it is pressing ahead with the privatization strategy despite deep unease among Slovenians.

Several sources have told Reuters that international investment funds Cinven, Providence, Apax and Bain Capital are among the bidders for Telekom, along with German telecoms operator Deutsche Telekom.

In 2008 the then center-right government stopped the sale of Telekom Slovenia in the last phase of privatization, saying the bids were too low.

Editing by Matt Robinson and Toby Chopra

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