x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Zain shareholders in talks to offload stake

Shareholders in Zain, the mobile operator that is Kuwait's largest public company, are negotiating the sale of a stake.

Shareholders in Zain, the mobile operator that is Kuwait's largest public company, are negotiating the sale of a stake, its chief executive confirmed today. Late last month, shareholders voted to remove ownership restrictions on its shares, fuelling speculation that a strategic investor was looking to acquire a stake in the company, which owns mobile networks across Africa and the Middle East.

Zain's share price has almost doubled in recent months as expectations of a stake sale, combined with the company's publicly acknowledged plan to sell its assets in sub-Saharan Africa, raised investor interest. Zain shares rose 5 per cent today. The Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA), a sovereign wealth fund, and the Kharafi Group, a family-owned conglomerate, are Zain's largest institutional investors. The two companies own a combined 35.5 per cent of the company.

Al Arabiya news network reported today that an unnamed Asian investor was in discussions to acquire a 46 per cent stake in Zain, without giving further details. The chief executive of Zain, Saad al Barrak, confirmed to Reuters that shareholders were in talks to sell a stake, adding that management were not involved in the talks. At an industry conference in June, Mr al Barrak, a staunch opponent of government involvement in the private sector, said he looked forward to the KIA ending its involvement in the company.

"I wish they would leave tomorrow, and I am working on this," he said. "Any government ownership imposes, by the nature of government, some economic and political decisions, which are extremely detrimental to the well-being of private enterprise." tgara@thenational.ae