It should probably come as no surprise that A1 Telekom Austria Group (A1 TAG) has once again been linked with the Serbian incumbent Telekom Srbija.
This despite the fact that less that a year ago the latter’s DG Pedrag Culibrk said privatisation was no longer its main concern, with the focus being on developing fibre infrastructure.
It is probably also no surprise that a recent speech by A1 TAG’s CEO Alejandro Plater in which he referred to regional expansion plans and CEE as being in the company’s DNA was quickly picked up by the Serbian media.
A1 TAG’s interest in Telekom Srbija dates back several years and it looked on course to buy a majority (51%) stake in the company in 2011, having been the only party to submit a bid in a tender that also attracted interest from Deutsche Telekom and Vimpelcom, among others. However, the €1.1 billion it offered fell short of the €1.4 billion demanded by the shareholders and the proposed deal collapsed.
Since then, there was an even more comprehensive tender in 2015 that attracted no fewer than six bids. The highest offer was reported to have come from the US fund Apollo, and again it was deemed too low.
By that stage, it had also become clear than the privatisation of Telekom Srbija was generally opposed in the country. The company, which is majority (58.11%) owned by the Serbian state, with Telekom Srbija itself owning 20%, citizens 14.95% and current and former employees the remaining 6.94%, is widely seen a national asset that should not fall under foreign control.
What is more, it is one of Serbia’s most profitable companies, second only to the locally owned multinational oil and gas conglomerate NIS in 2016.
Yet despite this, its proposed privatisation has never dropped off the agenda. Should it again come on the market, A1 TAG would certainly be one of the frontrunners to buy the company.