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By Dinesh Nair
DUBAI, June 25 (Reuters) - Dubai Holding’s telecoms unit has hired Credit Suisse as a financial adviser to sell its 35-percent stake in state-owned Tunisie Telecom, three banking sources aware of the matter said.
The unit - Emirates International Telecommunications (EIT) - is stepping up sales from its telecoms portfolio as part of a wider strategy by the emirate’s state-linked firms to sell assets to repay its debt pile.
EIT has already put its 26-percent stake in mobile telephone retailer Axiom Telecom on the block and has hired Citigroup Inc as an adviser, sources told Reuters earlier in the week.
Last week, the Tunisian government said Dubai Holding was considering a sale of its stake in Tunisie Telecom, without providing any additional details. EIT bought the stake for $2.25 billion in 2006. Tunisia owns the rest.
“Like any investment company, EIT is always evaluating exit options that are in line with its investment strategy and in case of Tunisie Telecom this is being done in full alignment with the Tunisian State,” EIT said in a statement on Tuesday.
Credit Suisse declined to comment.
Credit Suisse has sounded out to several interested parties for the stake, which also includes the rights to manage the company, the sources said speaking on condition of anonymity.
One source familiar with the process said Turkish telecom groups Turkcell and Turk Telekom could be interested in the stake.
“We are aware of the opportunity. We are obtaining information to evaluate it properly. It is in very early stages. No decision has been made at the board level,” a Turkcell source told Reuters. Turk Telekom declined to comment.
Tunisia has a population of about 10.5 million people and mobile penetration of 95 percent. Tunisie Telecom has more than four million mobile phone subscribers and one million for fixed-line services.
EIT has complained to the Tunisian government since the uprising that toppled former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 about strike action and workers’ demands for higher pay.
“It will be hard (for Dubai) to get their investment back but the company is a play on data growth in the country and any operator who looks at it also gets management control,” one banking source said.
In February 2011, a month after Ben Ali’s ousting, Tunisie Telecom said it had cancelled plans to list on the Tunis and Paris stock exchanges after consultations with trade unions. Workers had threatened industrial action if there were job cuts.
Dubai Holding, the conglomerate owned by the ruler of Dubai, is among the group of companies badly hit by the financial crisis. Many of its units have had to restructure debts. But the emirate’s economy is recovering from the crisis thanks to a rebound in tourism, services and the property market. (Additional reporting by Asli Kandemir in Istanbul and Tarek Amara in Tunis; Editing by Jane Merriman)