Swiss UMTS auction on hold as BT sells interest

Click to follow
The Independent Online

British Telecom yesterday cut a slice from its rising debt load when it agreed to sell a 34 per cent stake in Sunrise, a Swiss telecoms group, to joint venture partner Tele Danmark for £460m.

British Telecom yesterday cut a slice from its rising debt load when it agreed to sell a 34 per cent stake in Sunrise, a Swiss telecoms group, to joint venture partner Tele Danmark for £460m.

The move also served to end the Swiss third generation mobile licence auction as Tele Danmark immediately unveiled a merger of Sunrise with rival bidder diAx. This left four groups contesting the same number of licences, prompting the Swiss government to postpone the auction and launch an investigation into the bidders' conduct. A BT spokesman said: "BT is 100 per cent confident that the deal is above board. This is a case of the right deal at the right time."

BT will book a profit of about £390m on the sale, having invested £70m in Sunrise since taking the stake in 1997. BT now plans to use its Ignite business and broadband services provider to develop opportunities in Switzerland.

The telecom giant's shares ended down 10.5p at 689.5p after losing an early 3 per cent advance. That followed an 11 per cent slump since the restructuring was unveiled on Thursday.

A fund manager noted: "[BT] bought some wireless stuff, spent money on 3G licences and said it was all very controlled. But suddenly they look like forced sellers."

The Swiss sale coincided with BT confirming plans to stay in Cegetel, a joint venture with Vivendi, while reserving the right to review its position. Jean Marie Messier, chief executive of Vivendi, has demanded that BT clarify its intentions after the British company attempted to close down Vizzavi, the French group's rival internet joint venture with Vodafone Group.

An arbitration court rejected BT's request on Friday, but said it could call for compensation should proof arise that an agreement between Vizzavi and SFR, Cegetel's mobile phone network, was prejudicial to SFR.

Comments