x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Third bid put in for Zain stake

A Saudi consortium led by Al Riyadh Group has made a non-binding offer for a 25 per cent stake in Kuwaiti telecommunications company Zain.

The Kuwaiti telecommunications company Zain has received a third offer for the purchase of its 25 per cent stake in Zain Saudi Arabia.

A Saudi consortium led by Al Riyadh Group has made a non-binding offer, Zain said yesterday in a statement on the Kuwait Stock Exchange website.

It is the third offer for Zain's stake in the business, following similar offers from Kingdom Holding, the investment company controlled by the Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, and Bahrain's Batelco.

In November, the UAE operator Etisalat offered to acquire a majority stake in Zain. But it made the sale of the stake in Zain Saudi Arabia a precondition of the acquisition because the Emirates company operates Mobily, one of Zain's competitors in Saudi Arabia.

Irfan Ellam, a telecoms analyst with Al Mal Capital, said the Qatari operator Qtel was also a potential bidder for the stake in Zain Saudi Arabia. "I know they are interested in Saudi Arabia. It's a case of how to go in, when you go in," he said.

Mr Ellam said Kingdom Holding "is not a telco operator", and could be seeking a partnership with an established telecoms operator in entering that market.

Qtel is "a potential partner of Kingdom Holding, or they could decide to bid for itself", he said.

It also emerged yesterday that Zain had been fined US$262 million (Dh962.3m) for putting 5 million Sim cards in the Iraqi market without permission, contravening its licence.

Iraq's communications and media commission said on its website the fine was imposed on January 11 and Zain had three months to pay.

Emad Makiya, the chief executive of Zain Iraq, told Reuters the company would "definitely" appeal against the fine. "They have no right to issue such a penalty," he said.

Zain, which has about a 53 per cent market share, won a 15-year licence for $1.25 billion in 2007. It was fined $18.6m by Iraq for poor mobile phone services in 2009. It had more than 12 million subscribers at the end of last year and expects to add up to 18,000 a month after it began services in the semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region, Mr Makiya told Reuters.

* with agencies

bflanagan@thenational.ae