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Deutsche Telekom among finalists for Mobi 63

Deutsche Telekom AG, Europe's largest phone company, and rival France Telecom SA may be among final bidders for Mobi 63, Serbia's second-biggest mobile phone company. Serbia is selling its 70% stake and is asking for minimum bids of € 800 million ($1.01 billion) for the whole company and some wireless permits. A group of Austrian investors have agreed to sell their 30% stake if the bid exceeds € 1.1 billion. The Serbian government has been selling state assets, including its banks, refinery and tobacco company, to lure more cash from abroad after the civil wars of the 1990s and the rule of former President Slobodan Milosevic damaged the economy and left investors wary of the Balkan nation. Deutsche Telekom already has stakes in eastern Europe, including control of the Slovak and Hungarian phone companies, while France Telecom has 47.5% of Poland's Telekomunikacja Polska SA, the largest phone company in eastern Europe.
The Mobi 63 bidding will be broadcast live on Serbian state-run TV and authorities are endeavoring to garner the highest price for the sale of any company in a decade. Bidding will progress in blocks of € 20 million ($25 million) from the starting price. Other potential finalists are Telenor ASA (the owner of Hungary’s Pannon), Tele2 AB, Orascom Telecom Holding SAE, Etihad Etisalat Co., TeliaSonera AB and Mobilkom Austria AG. The company, previously known as Mobtel, was taken over by the government from Serbian businessman Bogoljub Karic, who co-founded it in 1994 together with the state. Earlier this year Karic was accused of fraud, contract violations and corruption. He fled the country and is reportedly living in Russia. A prospective buyer must be a telephone company with at least 3 million users and have a 2005 profit of more than € 500 million ($610 million).
Mobi 63 may be more competitive than in previous sales of phone companies in the region because Mobi 63 is one of the biggest still on sale. Mobi 63 had 2 million customers at the end of 2004, or about half of Serbia's wireless users, according to the most recent figures published on the company's Web site. The company, founded as Mobtel in 1994, had a profit of 776.8 million Serbian dinars ($11.3 million) on sales of 13 billion dinars in 2004, according to the Web site. Rothschild Group and Citadel Financial Advisory are advising the Serbian government on the sale. (Bloomberg)