Telia’s Eurasian exit stumbles in Tajikstan, Phonero deal hits regulatory block

Telia has called for an urgent meeting with the Prime Minister of Tajikstan claiming a delayed sale, unpaid debt and illegal tax claims has put a “severe financial strain” on its Tajik subsidiary Tcell.

In an open letter to PM Kokhir Rasulzoda the Chief Executive of Telia, Johan Dennelind, said mobile operator Tcell “finds itself in a very difficult situation in Tajikstan” and that its attempts to resolve its issues with Tajik authorities had failed.

As a result of a strategic shift away from the Eurasia region, it agreed to sell its 60 percent holding in Tcell to fellow shareholder the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development last year.

The closing of the sale is subject to local Tajikstan Anti-Monopoly Commission Approval but to date no response to the group’s application has been received.

This is despite the legislated time period lapsing on 29 November last year.

In the letter Dennelind wrote: “We find it unworthy and unsustainable that a decision of this importance is delayed without a formal response citing credible reasons.

“We have done what we can to find out why a decision has not been announced.

“We see no other option than to escalate this issue with you.”

Dennelind also raised its January appeal against what it describes as illegal tax claims on Tcell from the Tajik authorities.

He said it is based on revenues it has never generated and is more than its EBITDA result from 2015.

In addition, it claimed that state owned Tajik Telecom was not paying debt owed to Tcell.

“Taken together this puts a very severe financial strain on the company which means that a vital part of the communications of Tajikstan is in jeopardy,” Dannelind wrote.

“We ask you to do all in your power to work together with us to resolve this situation.”

Meanwhile, Telia said it had received a negative preliminary notice from the Norwegian Competition Authority over its $275 million acquisition of Phonero.

It is understood that the Authority could block the deal on fears that the deal could reduce competition and increase costs for enterprise customers.

Telia said it disagreed with the notice and will respond to the authority shortly.

“We are very surprised by their assessment of the Norwegian enterprise segment,” said Abraham Foss, CEO of Telia’s Norwegian operation.

“If their decision stands, only the dominant operator in the market will benefit.”

The deadline for a final decision is 10 April.

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