Healthy demand for Iraqi telco Asiacell's $1.35 bln share sale

Tue Jan 29, 2013 12:10pm EST

* Iraq's largest ever share sale fully subscribed

* CEO Diar Ahmed to take on new role

By Aseel Kami

BAGHDAD, Jan 29 (Reuters) - Iraqi mobile company Asiacell's $1.35 billion share sale was fully subscribed, bookrunner Rabee Securities said on Tuesday, four days before the closing date of the country's largest ever stock market listing.

The Asiacell sale is the first major share offering in Iraq since a U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003 and will test confidence in the country's economy after years of war and sanctions.

The country's No. 2 telecoms company, which will make its debut on Iraq Securities Exchange on Feb. 3, said chief executive Diar Ahmed plans to step down as CEO to take on a new role as chief adviser to Asiacell's chairman Faruq Mustafa Rasul. Ahmed will remain CEO until there is a replacement.

"It is Dr Diar's intention to step down as CEO to pursue his new role exclusively, once a new CEO has been appointed," an Asiacell spokesperson said.

Asiacell, majority owned by Qatar Telecom (Qtel), is selling a quarter of its shares to fulfil obligations under its telecoms licence.

"The offering is now comfortably covered with a good mix of retail and institutional demand from within Iraq as well as institutional and high net worth demand from abroad," Shwan Ibrahim Taha, chairman of sole bookrunner Rabee Securities, said.

Qtel in June agreed to pay $1.5 billion to double its stake in Asiacell to 60 percent, so the Qatari company is unlikely to want to dilute its holding via the share sale. Asiacell has yet to say whether the share sale will be done a pro rata basis.

Asiacell, market leader Zain Iraq, a subsidiary of Kuwait's Zain, and France Telecom affiliate Korek were obliged to sell a quarter of their shares to the public and list locally as part of their $1.25 billion licences issued in 2007.

Asiacell will be the first to do so, since all three missed an August 2011 deadline to float.

Together these listings could nearly double the bourse's current market capitalisation of about $4.7 billion. (Reporting by Aseel Kami in Baghdad, additional reporting and writing by Matt Smith. Editing by Jane Merriman)