Almost there: Etisalat to pay $100m less in PTCL row, says official

By Kazim Alam, The Express Tribune

KARACHI: Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have finally resolved the dispute over the outstanding payment of $800 million under the privatisation deal for the Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) in which the Emirates Telecommunication Corporation, branded trade name Etisalat, acquired a 26% stake at a total cost of $2.6 billion in 2006, said the Adviser to Prime Minister on Textiles Dr Mirza Ikhtiar Baig on Saturday.

Speaking at a meeting of the Pakistan-UAE Business Council of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry at the federation house, Baig said that Pakistan was going to forgo $100 million under the final settlement and will receive $700 million in tranches.

Etisalat withheld $800 million due to non-transfer of 136 properties in the name of the PTCL because of litigation and encroachments. “In lieu of the properties not transferred to PTCL because of pending cases, Pakistan will forgo $100 million and will receive $700 million,” Baig said.

However, he did not specify the period over which Pakistan is going to receive the outstanding payment.

Presenting the minutes of the 10th Pakistan-UAE Joint Ministerial Commission meeting held in Abu Dhabi on February 26-27 earlier this year, Baig said it was decided by the foreign ministers of both countries to undertake a thorough evaluation of the disputed properties to determine their net worth.

“Pakistan got the evaluation done by the National Bank of Pakistan (NBP). Its estimate of the net value was in the vicinity of $80 million. But Etisalat refused to accept it, and instead hired international surveyors for an independent evaluation. Their estimate is around $100 million,” he said, adding that the difference of $20 million in the estimates of the NBP and independent surveyors was not substantial.

In March, Khaleej Times quoted Baig as saying that there were only two contentious properties in major Pakistani cities, as the rest of the disputed assets had already been cleared.

When The Express Tribune contacted PTCL, a spokesperson for the company refused to offer comment, saying it was up to the governments of Pakistan and the UAE to resolve the dispute. “It’s been a long-standing stance of the PTCL that the dispute over the outstanding payment of $800 million is something strictly between the governments. We have nothing to say in this regard.”

Etisalat paid $1.4 billion initially while the rest of $1.2 billion was scheduled to be paid in six equal biannual instalments.

An affiliate of UAE’s Etisalat, the PTCL is the third largest mobile operator in Pakistan and enjoys a 19% market share in the cellular phone market.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 29, 2012.

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