Bahrain's Batelco to exit India, to sell stake in STel

The Supreme Court verdict cancelling 122 telecom licences claimed its first casualty as Bahrain-based Batelco Wednesday announced its exit from   India, selling its stake in mobile firm STel.

STel, which had acquired licences to operate in six circles including Odisha, Bihar and Himachal Pradesh, is a joint venture between Batelco and Sky City Foundation, owned by former Aircel promoter and serial entrepreneur C. Sivasankaran.

BMIC Limited, a 100 percent Batelco-owned subsidiary company, had acquired the stake in STel via two transactions in May and June 2009 for $174.5 million.

"Batelco Group, the Middle Eastern regional telecommunications operator of reference with operations across seven countries, today (Wednesday) announced its agreement for the sale of its shareholding in STel, a mobile operator in India," the company said in a statement.

"This is a part of an earlier understanding with its Indian partner to exit given the circumstances surrounding the 2G probe in India over the past 12 months," it added.
The agreed time frame for completion of the stake sale is the end of October 2012.
The Supreme Court has given all the affected firms four months time to shut shop and asked the government auction the free the spectrum.

Another telecom operator which has also hinted at exiting India business, Uninor's parent firm Telenor has said it would fight for its rights and proposed restricting older players from the 2G auction whenever the government conducts it.

Uninor's case has also been taken up at a diplomatic level by Norway. The country's IT minister Tuesday met Communications Minister Kapil Sibal.

Even Russia's Communications Minister Igor Shchyogolev is reported to visit India to express the country's concern over its investments in the Indian firm, Sistema Shyam Teleservices (SSTL).

SSTL, a joint venture between Russia's Sistema and India's Shyam Group, which provides its services under the MTS brand name, has also said that it reserves the right to protect its interests by using all available judicial remedies and was mulling the option of filing a review petition in the apex court.

Sistema holds a 56.68 percent stake in the venture, while the Russian government holds 17.14 percent and the Shyam Group of India has another 23.98 percent. The remaining 2.2 is publicly owned.

Another foreign operator, which has also been affected by the Supreme Court's ruling, is Dubai's Etisalat. The company  protested the apex court's decision saying it had no knowledge of what occurred in the licence application process for Swan, which was conducted by the Indian promoters and their associates.

According to Etisalat, the promoters subsequently marketed the Swan investment opportunity to Etisalat through an international investment bank.

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