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Bahrain's Batelco seeks majority stakes in foreign units

Source : REUTERS
Last Updated: Mon, Oct 15, 2012 15:10 hrs

By Matt Smith

DUBAI, Oct 15 (Reuters) - Bahrain Telecommunications Co (Batelco) wants to increase its holdings in affiliate firms, its chief executive said, as the former monopoly seeks to maximize its control and the returns from the operations.

This would follow similar moves by other Gulf state-controlled operators, which have sought to either take majority control of foreign units or reduce their holdings.

Larger rival Qatar Telecom (Qtel) this year agreed to pay about $3.3 billion upping its stakes in Kuwait's Wataniya and Iraq's Asiacell, while Etisalat of the United Arab Emirates sold a 9.1 percent stake in Indonesia's PT XL Axiata in September.

"If opportunities such as what Qtel has done with Wataniya come along with any of our portfolio holdings, of course we will look at it favourably," Sheikh Mohamed Isa al-Khalifa, Batelco group chief executive, told reporters on the sidelines of a conference in Dubai.

"It's always important for us to be able to consolidate a business and not to hold a minority stake."

Batelco owns Jordanian operator Umniah, 27 percent of Yemeni mobile firm Sabafon and minority stakes in internet providers in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and it is also active in Egypt.

It is in talks with Cable & Wireless Communications to buy its assets in Monaco and a host of island nations, a deal potentially worth around $1 billion.

"What we want is to go into a brownfield business, not a greenfield as we did before," said Sheikh Mohamed.

Batelco in February agreed to sell its 43 percent stake in Indian affiliate S Tel to its local partner for $175 million after the operator was stripped of its licences in a corruption probe. The deal was due to be completed in the fourth quarter.

"Our agreement is for the money to be received by October 31, so we've still got a few days to go and we're looking forward to receiving our money," Sheikh Mohamed said, adding Batelco was keen on re-entering India.

"The problem with India is that there's no clarity right now on how the market is going to develop - we would like to be there, but at the right price," he said. (Reporting by Matt Smith; Editing by Hans-Juergen Peters)



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