UPDATE 1-Algeria says talks on acquiring Vimpelcom unit continue
By Hamid Ould Ahmed
ALGIERS, Sept 3 (Reuters) - Algeria's finance minister denied speculation that its talks on acquiring a controlling stake in local mobile phone unit Djezzy from emerging markets telecoms operator Vimpelcom had stalled.
"Talks are continuing," Karim Djoudi told reporters at parliament on Monday, when asked whether Algeria had abandoned the acquisition plan.
It was the first comment from Algeria since March, the month that the government imposed a $1.3 billion fine on Djezzy for violating foreign currency regulations.
Vimpelcom has appealed against the ruling by a court in Algiers and the dispute over the ruling prompted analysts and local media to speculate that the two sides might abandon talks.
Russia-focused Vimpelcom acquired Djezzy last year as part of a $6 billion deal to buy assets of Egyptian firm Orascom Telecom, but this transaction became clouded in uncertainty after the government sought a majority stake in the unit.
Djezzy was the most lucrative part of Orascom's business. and the negotiations for Algeria to buy the firm have dragged on for more than a year, complicated by the case mounted against the unit over the alleged breaches of foreign exchange rules.
Vimpelcom agreed in January to sell Algeria a 51 percent stake in the unit. It said at the time it had signed a memorandum of understanding with the finance ministry to explore the sale, subject to agreeing an acceptable price.
Asked on Monday to give details of the talks, he said: "We cannot comment on this issue until an agreement is reached."
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