16 JANUARY 2002

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Maltacom initiates Vodafone 20% divestiture

By Kurt Sansone

The final chapter in Maltacom’s Vodafone-shareholding saga is soon to be written as the telecommunications giant has appointed Bank of Valletta and N.M. Rothschild & Sons Ltd as its advisors on the issue.

A company announcement released on Monday states that "an invitation for a non-binding expression of interest to acquire Maltacom’s 20% shareholding in Vodafone Malta Limited is being issued."

The company’s announcement means that Maltacom is in the process of disposing its shareholding in Vodafone, a situation viewed by communications experts as untenable, after the liberalisation of the mobile phone sector.

The Malta Financial and Business Times yesterday asked Maltacom’s Group Chief Executive Officer, Stephen Muscat to comment about the announcement, but he informed this newspaper that he had nothing to add to the company announcement.

However, in an interview Mr Muscat had given The Malta Financial and Business Times in September last year, he had stressed that "the divestiture will take as long as is necessary."

Mr Muscat insisted back then that Maltacom wanted to get the best possible price for the asset, something, which the company’s shareholders expected.

The Malta Financial and Business Times yesterday also contacted Malta Communications Authority chairman Joseph V. Tabone who did not want to comment on whether the MCA, of late, has put any pressure on Maltacom, to move on with the divestiture.

"The important thing is that the divestiture is moving ahead," an upbeat Mr Tabone told this newspaper.

When asked whether any deadlines have been set for the divestiture, Mr Tabone said that a process, which included timeframes, had been agreed between the parties involved. The MCA chairman did not divulge further information adding that the issue was very sensitive given the competitive state of the market.

The mobile phone sector was born in the early nineties with Telecell being the only operator enjoying a guaranteed monopoly. Vodafone and Maltacom, then Telemalta, were both shareholders in Telecell. But with the liberalisation of the mobile phone sector in December 2000 and Maltacom’s entry into the market with its subsidiary company Go Mobile, the situation became very awkward for Vodafone.

Steps were taken to distance Maltacom from Vodafone, despite the 20 per cent stake the former has in Vodafone Malta Ltd. But with the setting up of the Malta Communications Authority, Maltacom was given a deadline until June last year to dispose of its shareholding in Vodafone.

It is expected that Vodafone will buy the 20 per cent stake itself, to ensure a wholly owned company. But in an interview with this newspaper in September last year, Vodafone CEO Joseph Grioli could not comment much on the issue.

"The question as to whether Vodafone will be taking the 20 per cent stake is really for the Vodafone Group to decide," Mr Grioli had said.

The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
Tel: (356) 382741-3, 382745-6 | Fax: (356) 385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt