x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Etisalat still eyeing Morocco after Meditel sale

Etisalat, which lost a bid to take a stake in Morocco's Meditel telecoms firm, is still interested in the country's sector.

DUBAI // Etisalat, which lost a bid to take a stake in Morocco's Meditel telecoms firm, is still interested in the country's sector, a spokesman said on Wednesday. Ahmed Bin Ali said Etisalat, the Arab world's third-biggest telecoms firm by market value, saw Morocco as a growth market. "We are monitoring closely and we still think that Morocco is a good market," Mr Ali said. "It depends on what new is coming up and it does not only include Meditel but any other opportunity."

Portugal Telecom and Spain's Telefonica sold their stakes in Meditel, Morocco's No. 2 player, to Moroccan investors this week. Meditel ? the North African country's second provider after Maroc Telecom SA and now fully owned by Moroccan investors ? said on Tuesday that it was still open to selling a stake to a foreign investor and may list on the bourse. "Morocco is an attractive market and we're expecting a lot of growth in customers and technology," Mr Ali said. Etisalat, along with its Arab rivals, has been keen to expand abroad amid stiff competition at home, and it was not the only Gulf firm to bid for Meditel, with Qatar Telecom also in the running.

Etisalat, third in market value among Arab telecoms firms behind Saudi Telecom and Kuwaiti rival Zain and ahead of Maroc Telecom, has also made a bid for a Libyan licence. Ali said a decision on Libya was expected "very soon." The Etisalat spokesman said the firm had no interest in taking a stake in Zain, or its African assets, which are on the auction block. Zain reiterated on Monday that all options were open regarding its African assets, and that it was in talks with several partners over a deal. Talk that Zain Group itself might be sold surfaced at the start of August, sending its shares sharply higher and propelling it ahead of Etisalat in terms of size by market value.

Etisalat was touted as a prospective buyer for Zain amid reports that major Zain shareholders were in talks to sell their stakes in the company. "There has been no discussions of any acquisitions of Zain," Ali said. "Nothing happened between Etisalat and Zain on a management level or a shareholder level. "We have not done any negotiations or sent any offers." *Reuters