HARARE – Vimpelcom Limited (VimpelCom) says it still owns a majority stake in Telecel Zimbabwe (Private) Limited (Telecel), as negotiations with the government over the 60 percent buy out continue.
Last year, VimpelCom was pressured by President Robert Mugabe’s administration to sell its stake in the mobile phone operator to Zarnet after its offers to a variety foreign and local investors was blocked on the basis that previous sales had not yielded any capital gains tax for the cash-strapped government.
“As announced in November 2015, VimpelCom and Global Telecom Holding (GTH) have reached an agreement with Zarnet (Private) Limited to sell their 60 percent stake in Telecel,” the Amsterdambased company’s spokesperson Rozzyn Boy told businessdaily.
“We are progressing with the transaction and continuing to make all preparations to bring the deal to,” she said.
“As always, our focus remains firmly on serving our customers in Zimbabwe and providing them with the best possible services.
“As of today, VimpelCom and GTH remain a 60 percent shareholder in Telecel and we continue our discussions with Zarnet,” Boy added.
Telecel is Zimbabwe’s smallest mobile telephone operator with over 2,4 million subscribers.
In April last year, its licence was cancelled by the telecommunications regulator but was temporarily restored weeks later after the company went to court.
While the government has made a $10 million down payment for the stake and promised to have paid the full amount by January this year, people familiar with the development said this week that Treasury was still making frantic efforts to raise $30 million to settle the balance by end-February after Harare had asked for a 30-day extension.
“The government is under pressure to deliver the money and it is pulling all the stops to ensure that the $30 million is paid by this week, or it risks forfeiting the initial payment to VimpelCom for failing to fulfil its contractual obligations,” the source added.
On the other hand, Zarnet — a wholly owned by the government through the Information and Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services ministry — is reportedly technically insolvent, according to the government’s auditor general.
The parastatal, which was established in 1997 as a government Internet Service Provider, has no experience in telecommunications and lists on its website that it offers ICT solutions and e-learning platforms.
Telecel officials could not deny nor confirm the latest development. “This is a shareholder issue and once we have confirmation we will share an official statement,” the company said in emailed responses.
Government already controls another mobile operator in NetOne, which has 4,1 million subscribers according to latest official data as well as fixed line operator, TelOne.