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Thu 4 Mar 2010 03:48 AM

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Zain pledged not to sell Nigerian unit to Bharti - Econet

Zain Nigeria is the largest market in the 15 countries Zain operates, with 14m subscribers.

Zain’s Nigerian unit, the target of a takeover bid by Bharti Airtel Ltd, pledged that it won’t change its shareholding until a dispute over its ownership is resolved, Econet Wireless Holdings Ltd chief executive officer Strive Masiyiwa said.

In a telephone interview from Johannesburg, Masiyiwa said that “The undertaking is still in place” not to sell, transfer or dispose of any of the Nigerian unit’s shares.

Zain spokesman Antoine Aboukhalil declined to comment because the matter is before an international arbitration Tribunal.

Econet is disputing Zain’s ownership of the Lagos based company because it says it had the first right to buy the stake that Zain acquired in 2006.

Econet owns 5 percent of Zain Nigeria, which is 65 percent held by Bahrain-based Zain. Zain is in talks to sell its African operations to Bharti for $10.7 billion.

When asked by Econet’s lawyers to reaffirm a July 14, 2009, undertaking to the Arbitral Tribunal not to further encumber the Nigerian assets until the ownership dispute was settled, Zain’s lawyer responded that Zain Nigeria is “well aware” of its undertaking, Masiyiwa said.

Zain Nigeria is the largest market in the 15 African countries in which Zain operates, with more than 14 million subscribers.

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