x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Pakistan says Etisalat will pay Dh2.9bn on disputed telecoms stake

Etisalat agrees to pay the government $2.6bn in instalments for its 26 per cent stake in Pakistan Telecommunication.

DUBAI // The government of Pakistan expects to receive as much as US$800 million (Dh2.93 billion) by the end of March in delayed payments from Etisalat over its 2006 purchase of a stake in the country's largest telecommunications company. Etisalat had agreed to pay the government $2.6bn in instalments for its 26 per cent stake in Pakistan Telecommunication Corp Ltd (PTCL), a senior government official said yesterday.

But the UAE's largest phone company has withheld part of the payments for more than a year because of a dispute about the transfer of several properties that Etisalat claims were part of the original share purchase agreement. "We expect the money in our exchequer by the end of March," Waqar Ahmed Khan, Pakistan's minister of privatisation, said in Dubai. An Etisalat spokesman declined to comment. Etisalat hopes to boost its customer base in the country by expanding into rural areas, where most of Pakistan's population of 170 million live. It also plans to bid for a coming 3G licence there.

A settlement to the dispute would boost the company's expansion drive in the country and may help any future bid to boost its stake in PTCL. Pakistan government authorities met Etisalat officials on the sidelines of an investment conference on Tuesday. Mr Khan heads a committee, which includes two other ministers, that was set up to negotiate with Etisalat. "We had a close look at the issue and in the next two days we will have more meetings to work out the mechanics," he said, adding that the government intended to resolve the issue amicably.

A Pakistan government official last month estimated that the outstanding amount was about $1bn. PTCL is Pakistan's third-largest mobile operator, with more than 20 million mobile subscribers, and also offers broadband and landline services. @Email:skhan@thenational.ae