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Mobitel offers stake in firm

Mobitel entered exclusive negotiations with France Telecom this week over the sale of a stake in the Cambodian mobile provider, according to industry sources.

“The company is not for sale, but a minority stake is available,” said an industry insider, requesting anonymity.

France Telecom – Europe’s third largest telecoms company – was negotiating for 40 percent of the provider, the source added.

Several foreign firms had been in discussions over a majority stake in Mobitel over the past year, until Cambodian owners The Royal Group improved its financial position by refinancing through the Bank of China in early November, he said.

In November, conglomerate The Royal Group inked a US$591-million deal to refinance Mobitel’s existing debts and expand its services with the Bank of China acting as main lender.

Prime Minister Hun Sen witnessed the deal in Phnom Penh, along with Wu Bangguo, chairman of the Standing Committee of the Chinese National People’s Congress.

Another person associated with France Telecom’s position confirmed this week’s negotiations. Speaking on a condition of anonymity, he said: “We very much hope to succeed,” but did not elaborate further.

Mobitel Chief Executive Officer David Spriggs declined to comment yesterday. The Royal Group and France Telecom
officials did not return request for comment.

France Telecom CEO Stephane Richard said last month that the firm may direct some of its €7 billion ($9.45 billion) war chest for emerging market expansion to Southeast Asia as its historic turf in Africa became more crowded.

He singled out possibilities in Southeast Asia, particularly the former French colonies of Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports claimed yesterday that Indonesia’s largest mobile phone company Telekomunikasi Indonesia (Telkom) was in talks with Mobitel over a potential purchase of a majority stake in the firm.

“I hope that the process of acquisition will be completed by the first quarter next year,” Telkom Chief Commissioner Tanri Abeng said, according to the report.

However, several Cambodian industry insiders said they were not aware of negotiations when contacted by The Post yesterday.

Statistics from Cambodia’s Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications obtained from an industry source show Mobitel has dropped to be the second largest mobile provider by subscriber numbers.

The largest was Metfone – owned by Viettel, a subsidiary of the Vietnamese military – claiming 2.84 million subscribers in November, or 33 percent of the total.
Mobitel claimed 2.73 million subscribers in the month, representing 32 percent of the overall total.

Hello, owned by Malaysia-based Axiata, came in third with 870,000 subscribers, or 10 percent share.

Minister of Posts and Telecommunications So Khun could not be contacted yesterday, while secretary of state La Narath claimed he was “too busy” to respond. ADDITIONAL REPORTING SANOEURN SAMBATH AND BLOOMBERG

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