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Telco deal could be reversed

cellcard pha lina
Mfone mobile users exchange their SIM cards for Cellcard SIMs in Phnom Penh in January 2013. Photograph: Pha Lina/Phnom Penh Post

The agreement to transfer subscribers from bankrupt Mfone to Mobitel could be reversed if it is found not to have been in the best interests of creditors, an insolvency expert said.

A bankruptcy expert with local experience who asked not to be named said Cambodia follows the International Financial Regulations for Accounting, which treat client lists as intangible assets, and that a transaction occurring just prior to insolvency can be disputed by a creditor.

“Even if there is a court administrator appointed after the fact, I understand liquidators can still lobby the administrator to go over historical transactions that they believe may not have been performed in their best interests,” he said.

“So if they question the value that is being paid by a third party for this client list, then I think there are grounds for a court-appointed administrator to go back and review these transactions.”

Mfone announced the transfer agreement with Mobitel on January 11, just days after they filed for bankruptcy.

According to Sim Saren, business development manager at Mfone, about 500,000 customers could potentially have been transferred.

At the time of print, neither Mfone nor Mobitel could be contacted for comment on the terms of their agreement.

The court is yet to appoint an administrator to manage the insolvency; however, once appointed, administrators are required to seek the highest price possible for assets.   

Chinese telecommunications provider Huawei Technologies and Norwegian firm Eltek Valere are claiming over $65 million from Mfone.

 “If liquidators are aware that there is the potential of a transaction taking place that may be less than what they deem to be market value, then liquidators would most definitely lobby the court administrator to review that transaction, even if it took place prior to the court administrator being appointed,” the insolvency expert said.

“I think there is a process where the transactions can definitely be reviewed.

“The difficult thing for creditors is, ‘How do we benchmark the price that’s paid?’ when there is no real precedent in Cambodia to be able to do that.”

Huawei’s lawyer, Kuoy Thunna, told the Post last week that the transfer of subscribers to Mobitel is in breach of the court injunction to freeze Mfone assets.

“Even their agreement, which was signed on January 11, is invalid because it is in violation of the law,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel de Carteret at daniel.decarteret@phnompenhpost.com
Anne Renzenbrink at anne.renzenbrink@phnompenhpost.com

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