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Win could force telco to attempt takeover

FRANCE Telecom has prevailed in an arbitration dispute with Egyptian telecommunications giant Orascom Telecom in a ruling that could force the Paris-based firm to launch a takeover bid of Egypt's top mobile phone service provider, analysts said yesterday.

Orascom Telecom and France Telecom said late on Sunday that the Arbitration Court of the International Chamber of Commerce ruled in favor of the Paris-based firm in a 2007 dispute in which Orascom wanted France Telecom to transfer its majority shares of the Egyptian phone service provider Mobinil.

The dispute, which neither company detailed, arose from a 2001 agreement focusing on their stakes in the joint venture Mobinil Telecommunications, which in turn holds a 51-percent stake of Mobinil itself.

FT, which holds 71.25 percent of Mobinil Telecom, said the decision meant Orascom must sell its 28.75 percent stake, but would retain its direct equity interest in Mobinil itself. FT said the deal would bring in about 530 million euros (US$717 million) based on a per-share price of 441.66 Egyptian pounds (US$78.53).

But Orascom said the deal was valued at US$1.7 billion - or 273.26 Egyptian pounds per share - implying that FT had to also buy OT's direct equity stake. Mobinil's closing share price on Sunday was 150.03 Egyptian pounds.

The discrepancy on what the ruling requires "might trigger France Telecom to place a tender offer of 100 percent of Mobinil shares on the (Egyptian) stock exchange," said Sally Gerges, a telecom analyst with investment bank Beltone Financial.



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