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Official behind Nitel sell-off suspended

10 марта 2010

Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s acting president, has suspended the head of the body handling a controversial $2.5bn bid for Nitel, the former telecoms monopoly.

No reason was given for Christopher Anyanwu’s suspension but the Nitel bid has been mired in confusion. Some leading businesspeople in sub-Saharan Africa’s second-biggest economy regard the privatisation process as an embarrassment.

“He is suspended,” Mr Jonathan’s spokesman told the Financial Times, without elaborating.

People familiar with the matter suggested concerns over the latest attempt in a 10-year effort to sell off Nitel were likely to have been at least a contributory factor in the suspension.

Two people added that Mr Anyanwu’s stewardship of the Bureau of Public Enterprises had been widely criticised. Neither he nor the bureau’s spokesman immediately responded to requests for comment.

The $2.5bn offer for 75 per cent of Nitel from a consortium called New Generation Telecommunications been the focus of attention since it was named the preferred bid at an auction conducted by the BPE last month.

The bid was $1.5bn higher than the second-highest offer. Nitel owns some property and telecoms infrastructure but its licence offers an entry into one of the world’s fastest growing, if increasingly competitive, telecoms markets, home to 150m people.

But the group has been in decline since Nigeria liberalised its market in 2001 and two people who valued it for other potential bidders said it was not worth more than $400m.

Further confusion arose when China Unicom, China’s second-biggest carrier, denied involvement after being named as part of the consortium.

The state-owned group subsequently acknowledged that its European arm had been “in contact with potential bidders” after a letter emerged in which its London-based subsidiary offered technical support to the New Generation bid and said it would consider taking a 20 per cent stake in Nitel.

The New Generation consortium is fronted by GiCell, a small local carrier, and advised by BGL, a prominent Nigerian brokerage. It describes as its “financial backbone” a little-known finance house called Minerva, based in Dubai.

An investigation by the Financial Times this month found that while Minerva claims in confidential letters to prospective customers that it is “not only the biggest but also one of the most reliable financing partnership and fund management services providers to the global market from the Middle East”, Nigerian bankers and businesspeople had struggled to track the group down.

Minerva did not respond to repeated enquiries about its business from the FT.

The National Council on Privatisation, the BPE’s governing body, said a fortnight ago it had resolved the confusion over the bid, allowing it to go forward for final approval. That would have to be granted by a council chaired by Mr Jonathan.

Источник: Financial Times

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