VIVA VENTURES WANTS ITS DIVIDEND AGAIN
The consortium Viva Ventures, chosen as buyer of the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company (BTC) does not intend to undertake legal proceedings against the Bulgarian Government, despite the deal's delay. We are not people who like to waste their time in courts and our only wish is to finalize the deal for the company's sale, Joanna James, Managing Director of Advent International for Central and Eastern Europe, said at a press conference on Tuesday (November 4). The briefing did not differ much from the previous ones - same hotel, same hall. There was only one, little but important difference. In addition to the usual participants Joanna James and Advent's Director Christian Mruck, the press conference was also attended by representatives of Viva Ventures future partners in the BTC deal: Top Bjorgulfsson, majority owner and Chairman of Pharmaco's BoD; John Chomel-Doe, EBRD Director for Bulgaria; Leonidas Tsiburis, General Manger of the National Bank of Greece; Poetr Roichek, General Manager in the investment fund Swiss Life Private Equity Partners; Stanislav Knaflevsky, partner in Enterprise Investors; Rob van der Wurf, Senior Investment Manager in the Dutch Bank for Development, and Daniel Alexandrov, Senior Investment Manager in Europe Capital Management. Only a representative of the Investment Authorities of Abu Dabi from the United Arab Emirates was not present.
Four of the nine investors - the EBRD, the National Bank of Greece, Top Bjorgulfsson, and Europa Capital Management - already have a considerable experience in this country and did not hide their willingness to begin developing the BTC as soon as possible.Viva Ventures, registered in Vienna, is presently 100% owned by the US private equity fund Advent. After the deal's finalization, each of the above-mentioned investors will acquire a certain stake in Viva Ventures, their repsentatives said, but refused to specify the exact shares. However, they were unanimous in their willingness to finalize the deal on BTC as quickly as possible, as the Bulgarian Government does not have any legal or technical reasons for delaying it. In fact, the Privatisation Agency had to fix a date for completing the deal by mid-September, but two months later it is still silent. According to Mr. Christian Mruck, the reasons for the delay are purely political, and John Chomel-Doe explained that the problem was discussed with the Government and he was sure that a concrete decision would follow soon. The foreign investors did not fix a term for finalizing the deal, but underlined they had ensured the necessary funds and were ready to sign the conclusive contract at any time. BTC's delayed sale is hampering the company's modernization and digitalization. The implementation of the investment programme was frozen in August, 2003. In end-October the Vice Premier and Minister of Transport and Telecommunications Nikolay Vassilev said he would insist for the deal's finalization by the year-end. Otherwise, he will consider the telecom as state-owned. It's far more important how BTC's dividend for 2003 will be distributed under the present conditions. If the deal is delayed by the beginning of next year, the State may claim for it. Viva Ventures has already forfeited the telecom's profit for last year, and on Tuesday Ms. James said she would insist for the deal's completion as per the preliminary agreement. So, it's the Government's turn to act now.