The Serbian incumbent Telekom Srbija is rarely out of the news these days.
Late last month, it issued commercial bonds for the first time to the tune of RSD23.5 billion (€199.2 million). Although some were bought by the National Bank of Serbia (NBS), the latter has since claimed reports that it spent €100 million are wildly exaggerated. Yet despite this, the issue should help Telekom Srbija in its stated aim of financing its “business needs, including refinancing of existing financial obligations and financing the improvement of business activities”.
The last decade, and in particular the period since late 2018, have been particularly eventful for the Serbian incumbent. Back in 2011, the government rejected a bid of €1.1 billion from Telekom Austria for a 51% stake in the company, and four years later it again called off its privatisation after receiving bids from several parties including the fund Apollo.
Although speculation about a sale continued for some time afterwards, a major shift took place two years ago when the government – the Serbian state remains the company’s main shareholder – decided to make Telekom Srbija a major player in the Balkan region. As well as acquiring several operators including Kopernikus Technology, Telemark, Radijus vector and AVcom in its home market, the telco went on to also buy Blicnet and Telrad Net in Bosnia through its local subsidiary M-Tel as well as target Ipko in Kosovo. It was at one stage also linked with Telekom Albania and Bulgaria’s Vivacom.
While Telekom Srbija’s “million plus strategy” has certainly yielded results – the company expects to have up to 3 million internet and TV users by the end of this year and to be worth up to €4 billion by 2023 – there is another side to its success story. It remains in a bitter dispute with Serbia Broadband (SBB) and its owner United Group that got particularly nasty at the start of this year in a so-called ‘cable war’ about the carriage of United’s channels on Telekom Srbija’s networks. Both sides continue to spar and in August the telco decided to sue United Group for allegedly running a negative campaign against it for the last two years.
In the same month, the VP of the opposition People’s Party Miroslav Aleksic filed a complaint against Telekom Srbija for what was termed the illegal acquisition of several cable operators. Effectively, the telco stands accused of squandering public money by overpaying for its purchases – something that it has denied.
Expect this story to run for some time to come.
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