Greek OTE Not Top Bidder for ArmenTel

ATHENS (Reuter)–A consortium led by Greek state-owned telecom firm OTE is not the highest bidder for a controlling stake in Armenian telephone company ArmenTel–according to Merrill Lynch–advisers to the Armenian government on privatizations.

Greek daily Kathemerini reported on Friday that a consortium led by OTE–France Telecom–Hellenic Bottling and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development had made the highest bid at $105 million for 90 percent of ArmenTel.

But Paul Pittman–director of mergers and acquisitions at Merrill Lynch in London–told Reuters: "OTE’s is not the highest bid be have received."

"The goal of the Armenian government is to find a solid and professional telephone operator to acquire and invest in its telephone network," Pittman’said. "OTE’s consortium is very attractive in this respect but so are others."

Armenia has said it will announce its decision on the sale of ArmenTel–the former Soviet republic’s biggest single privatization–in the second half of this month.

Greece’s main opposition party called on the government Friday to explain a report that state-owned OTE was offering double the nearest bid for a stake in Armenia’s telephone company.

Manolis Kefalogiannis–New Democracy party spokesman for economic affairs–said he had written to the Greek economy and telecommunications ministries asking for details of the bid to be presented to parliament.

The daily Kathimerini said in its Friday edition that an OTE consortium had bid $105 million for 90 percent of ArmenTel. Metromedia was the second highest bidder–the newspaper said–offering $45 million.

The consortium had also pledged to invest $250 million in ArmenTel over 15 years–the newspaper said. It said OTE expected a return on its investment within three years. "If the first offer is double the price of the second one–you have to ask questions," Kefalogiannis told Reuters.

He said his party supported the expansion of OTE abroad but was concerned that business was not won by doubling the price of investment.

OTE was not available for comment.

OTE–81 percent owned by the Greek government–has been building up its interests in the Balkans and eastern Europe–seeking to make itself a serious regional telecom player.

The move fits with the Greek government’s political policy of positioning itself as a Balkans regional power.

In June–OTE bought with Italy’s Stet a 49 percent stake in rump Yugoslavia’s Telekom Srbija.

OTE board chairman Dimitris Papoulias visited the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in July for talks with government officials about the country’s upcoming privatization of its telephone company.

The Greek company also has partnerships and investmen’s in Lithuania–Kuwait–Ukraine–Georgia–Hungary–Albania–Jordan and Bulgaria.

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