x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Sudatel vows to pay dividends

Sudanese operator promises to pay up after regulator's threat.

Sudatel, the Sudanese state-owned telecommunications operator, says it expects to pay last year's dividends to shareholders by November after a threat from the UAE's securities regulator to suspend the company's shares. The company blamed the delay in paying dividends on Sudan's central bank, which must approve remittances abroad. Sudatel, which is traded on the Adu Dhabi Securities Exchange (ADX), approved the dividend payment in May but did not send the payments to shareholders. ADX regulations say the company must pay shareholders within 60 days of the approval. The dividend of 5 US cents a share was based on the company's US$34.5 million (Dh126.7m) profit last year.

"We are in the process of receiving the approval within the month of September and expect the transfers to commence in October and complete by November," the company told the ADX. Last Thursday, the Emirates Securities and Commodities Authority (SCA) said it would suspend Sudatel shares if it did not commit to a timetable for distributing the funds. In a statement to The National, the SCA said it was "satisfied" with Sudatel's response but "will continue to follow developments with the company until the finalisation of the distribution of profits".

Sudatel said laws passed after the financial crisis contributed to the delay. One regulation stipulated that the country's telecoms authority must certify Sudatel's profits and the company must then obtain central bank approval to transfer profits to shareholders abroad. The central bank has the power to control and regulate foreign currency deals. Sudatel agreed to the dividend payout at a general assembly meeting on May 31 and asked the telecoms authority on June 2 to approve the profits. The authority agreed on July 29, and Sudatel asked the central bank on the same day to approve the transfer. The bank requested further information such as Sudatel's investments abroad, its profit and its capital base. Sudatel said it responded to the bank's questions in full and expected to receive the approval very soon.

"We have gone ahead with bringing the total amount required to be transferred abroad and placing it in a separate account to prepare for the transfers after receiving the attestations from the central bank," Sudatel said. Muneef Tarmoom, a shareholder and president of ISAT Consulting in Abu Dhabi, said he was not satisfied with the company's explanation. "They should know what is required from them," Mr Tarmoom said. "They should have sorted it out well in advance. I can't see why it would delay them by four months." Sudatel, which is more than 60 per cent owned by the Sudanese government, was founded in 1993.

Its international arm, Expresso Telecom Group, is based in the Dubai International Financial Centre. The company sold its mobile phone network to Zain of Kuwait for $1.3 billion in 2005 and now operates a rival network called Sudani. halsayegh@thenational.ae