Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Another shady privatisation [updated]

"On 11 March the Ukrainian State Property Fund sold a 92.79 percent stake in Ukraine's telecom monopoly, Ukrtelecom, for 10.57 billion hryvnia (around $1.3 billion). The shares have been bought by Epic Services Ukraine (ESU), a daughter company of the Austrian EPIC group.

The opposition claims that the company was sold to a pre-agreed buyer (ESU was the only bidder submitting the final tender) and that in reality Ukrtelecom has been sold to Ukrainian businessmen, most probably closely linked to president Viktor Yanukovych. They also accuse the government of setting a far too low asking price for the company. Former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, claims that the transaction has caused the state to lose between $3 and $4 billion." [Source here.]

The long-running privatisation saga of this company has been a sorry tale indeed. There were times when it was valued at $25Bn. Companies having a state-owned portion greater than 25% were denied permission to bid, so giants Deutsche Telekom, FranceTelecom, Nortelecom and several Russian companies were shut out. Ukrainian mobile 'phone operators MTS and Kyivstar were also officially excluded.

The former head of the Ukrainian State Property Fund, Oleksandr Bondar was asked about the privatisation in an interview with the 'Nashi Hroshi' website on Monday. He claims the ownership of ESU was transferred to a Cyprus offshore company just prior to the sale - who the true end owners will be is therefore unknown. They could be Rinat Akmetov, head of presidential administration Serhiy Lyovochkin, members of the Yanukovych 'Family', or a combination of these and others.

Bondar estimates that in a fair contest, the state should have received at least $2Bn rather than $1.3Bn from the purchasers.

One websites speculates: "There remains uncertainty over EPIC due to persistent speculation that the fund is acting as a front for another, non-disclosed party, previously rumoured to be connected to cellular group MTS, part of Russian conglomerate Sistema, which operates in Russia, Ukraine and other CIS countries."

ESU's representative who signed the deal last Friday remained tight-lipped after the company had won this one-horse race.

However, what is clear is that the current State Property Fund and the Ukrainian Anti-Monopoly Committee have both failed in their duty to ascertain who the true owners of UkrTelekom will be.

Update From 'U.P. : EPIC Goldsheider and Wurmbuck (EPIC, Vienna, Austria) have claimed they remain the sole owner of EPIC Services Ukraine (ESU Ukraine, Kyiv) who gained a controlling packet of shares of 'UkrTelekom'.

EPIC is the exclusive owner of EPIC Advisors Ltd (EAL), which via its daughter company EAL is the sole owner of ESU, and has decided to optimise the structure of the holding, adapting it to the privatisation of 'UkrTelekom', by transferring the right of direct ownership to ESU, of the EPIC Telecom Investment Ltd (ETI).

ETI is the 100% owner of EAL. In this manner EPIC remains 100% owner of ESU.

Earlier two reputable Ukrainian newspapers 'Delo' and Dilova Slolytsya' reported that 100% of the statute fund of ESU were transferred from the fund of Epic Advisors Ltd, to the recently-formed Cypriot Epic Telecom Invest

'U.P. say that ETI have not even declared their registered legal address...this whole "alphabet soup" still smells fishy - are they good for the $1.3Bn? LEvko wonders...

They should be...when you consider what they are getting for the money.. the country's entire fixed cable telecom network...the exchanges...many many millions of subscribers...

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