Uzbekistan: Russian Telecom Giant's Assets up for Grabs
Fancy entering Uzbekistan’s telecom market? Russian mobile giant MTS's assets are up for auction and can be yours for about $300 million.MTS, which was the largest mobile operator in Uzbekistan until last summer, withdrew from the country’s scandal-ridden telecom sector this year after it became embroiled in a shady taxation dispute that looked more like an official asset grab.A "committee of creditors" of MTS's Uzbekistan subsidiary, O'zdunrobita, has decided to auction off the firm's assets, the Uzbek State Committee for Privatization, De-monopolization and Development of Competition announced through its Biznes-Daily Media website on June 3. Officials set a reserve price at 600 billion sums (about $290 million at the official exchange rate), Biznes-Daily Media said. The deposit required to register for the auction is 20 percent of the reserve price ($58 million). Bidders may submit their applications by 6 p.m. Tashkent time on June 28. The auction will be held July 1.In some ways, it's a deal. Last year, Michael Hecker, MTS's vice-president for strategy and corporate development, put the value of the company's Uzbekistan assets at over $1 billion. But it seems unlikely any foreign investors will show interest. Since MTS was forced out, another prominent international operator, Nordic giant TeliaSonera, has faced mounting charges it bribed its way into the Uzbek market, possibly by paying off the strongman president's eldest daughter, Gulnara Karimova. There are suspicions that authorities brought the tax-evasion charges and forced O'zdunrobita to suspend operations – in turn, forcing its 9 million subscribers to switch to other operators – with a specific aim. Shortly after, for a one-time $5 million fee, Swedish investigative journalists believe, TeliaSonera purchased many of MTS's customers.
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