Algeria Would Take Pre-Emption Right Over Qtel-Wataniya Plan

Qatar Telecom has already received approval to buy the remaining 47.5 per cent stake in Wataniya for $2.2 billion.

Photo credit: Gerard Al-Fil

Algeria would exercise its right of first refusal to take control of a unit owned by Wataniya if Qatar Telecom (Qtel) goes ahead with a plan to totally acquire the Kuwait group, the finance minister said on Monday.

Qtel last month said it had received approval from Kuwait’s Capital Markets Authority to buy the remaining 47.5 per cent stake in Wataniya for $2.2 billion. It already owns 52.5 per cent of the company.

Wataniya’s Nejma brand is the third mobile operator in Algeria where the government is allowed to take a majority stake following any transaction to sell shares in foreign businesses.

“If Qtel buys Wataniya completely, so there is a change of ownership…there is a rule that applies: 41/59 per cent,” Finance Minister Karim Djoudi was quoted by the official APS news agency as saying.

Algeria is already in a dispute with Vimpelcom over acquiring a controlling stake in the local mobile phone unit Djezzy from the Russian telecoms operator.

Vimpelcom acquired Djezzy last year as part of a $6 billion deal to buy assets of Egyptian firm Orascom Telecom, but this transaction became clouded in uncertainty after the government sought a majority stake in the unit.

Wataniya, Kuwait’s number two telecoms operator, suffered a 49 per cent drop in second quarter profit, hit by foreign exchange losses from its Algeria unit and increased domestic competition.

Netprofit at the firm was 19.1 million dinars ($67.83 million) in the three months to June 30, down from 37.3 million dinars in the same period last year, a company statement said.

The company had 18.3 million customers as of June 30, up 8.3 per cent from a year ago.