Qtel to raise stake in Asiacell's Iraq share offer

Qatari telco will raise 53.9 percent stake in subsidiary as part of US$1.35m share sale

Qatar Telecom (Qtel) will raise its 53.9 percent stake in subsidiary Asiacell as part of the Iraqi firm's US$1.35bn share sale, the largest ever stock listing on the Baghdad bourse, an exchange official said on Thursday.

Qtel's broad strategy has been to take greater control of its foreign units; since last year it has spent US$2.16bn to raise its holdings in Tunisiana and Kuwait's Wataniya to 90 percent or more.

Muddying this approach has been Asiacell, Iraq's second biggest telecommunications operator, which is offering a quarter of its shares to the public as part of its licensing obligations.

The offer opened on January 3 and aims to sell 67.5bn shares for at least IQD22 ($0.02) each. Asiacellis due to list on the Iraq Securities Exchange on Sunday.

Some details of the share offer have not been disclosed and it has been unclear whether all of Asiacell's current shareholders are selling their shares, and if so how much.

Layth Sulaiman, head of the ISX board of governors, told Reuters on Thursday that he understood Qtel would not reduce its stake in Asiacell through the offer.

"According to the information I have, Qtel will not sell its shares, it is a buyer," he said.

Qtel agreed in June on a US$1.5bn deal to raise its stake in Asiacell to 60 percent from 30 percent, with the remaining 6.1 percent pending Iraqi regulatory approval. It may be using the public offer to reach the 60 percent level.

Demand from foreign investors for the Asiacell offer, which has not yet been fully covered, has exceeded that from Iraqis, Sulaiman said. Brokers can receive orders for the shares until 0630 GMT on Sunday.

"What is left is a little portion," Sulaiman added. "Up to this moment, work is on going to enter orders to buy shares."

The share sale is technically not an initial public offer, since Asiacell earlier completed a tiny, nominal IPO so that it could convert to a joint stock company as required under Iraqi law, officials said.

Since it is a secondary offer, local Iraqi shareholders will sell some of their shares, according to an initial listing report by sole bookrunner Rabee Securities.

Asiacell and domestic rivals Zain Iraq, a subsidiary of Kuwait's Zain, and France Telecom affiliate Korek all missed an August 2011 deadline to float a quarter of their shares.

The Qtel subsidiary will be the first of the three to list in Iraq and its listing will roughly double the ISX's market capitalisation, which currently stands at about US$4.7bn.

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