ArmenTel Sale Seen Before Year End

LONDON (Reuters)–The sale of Armenian telephone company ArmenTel is on schedule and could be completed by the end of the year–an adviser to the deal said on Monday.

"I would hope for a transaction closing late this year. There will be no formal announcement until a deal is completed," said Paul Pittman–director of mergers and acquisitions at Merrill Lynch.

He told Reuters negotiations were going on with two serious bidders after the deadline for applications closed earlier this month.

"The deadline for submitting offers passed and there were three offers submitted. We are in serious negotiations with two of those people who made submissions at this point," he said.

The two bids being discussed were from a consortium including Greek state telecoms company OTE and France Telecom–and from US-based Metromedia.

Pittman’said 100 percent of the company was up for sale–although some of the offers had been for less than that–between 80 and 100 percent.

On sale is the Armenian government’s 51 percent stake and the 49 percent held by US group Trans-World Telecommunications.

"We have a strong preference for 100 percent but if it is close and by and far the best deal–they’ll consider it," said Pittman.

He said any stake left after the sale would probably be held by the government or other financial investors might take an interest.

Prime Minister’s Chief Advisor Vahram Avanesian held a press conference Friday to inform that international tender for sales of the ArmenTel national communications company has entered direct negotiations– and has not reached the stage of exclusive negotiations yet.

This means that negotiations are currently held with three potential buyers: two are basic operator buyers (one European and one from the Unite States) and one is a financial buyer.

Avanesian said that financial proposals have improved–compared to previous offers. The government has yet to make a decision about starting exclusive negotiations with one of the buyers. "I hope such a decision will be accepted soon," he declared.

Avanesian stressed that their methods are very different from each other and therefore it is very difficult to directly evaluate their proposals.

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