Tunisian government seizes controlling stake in Orange

The Tunisian government has seized a 51 per cent stake in Orange Tunisia. Earlier this month, it was rumoured that a draft cabinet decree calling for the seizure of all assets held by former president Ben Ali and his family was imminent. The Mabrouk Group, owned by Marwan Mabrouk, the son-in-law of the former president, owned 51 per cent of Orange which, it was speculated, was about to be taken over by the new government. Following the publication of a government decree during the week of March 21, the seizures have been made official.

A Tunisian government enquiry commission now has six months in which to decide what to do with the confiscated assets. France Telecom, which owns the remaining 49 per cent of the operator, told financial publication Les Echos that “nothing changes on the operational level and for Orange Tunisia, it’s business as usual.” Because the terms of its licence, which prevents it from holding a majority stake in the company before April 2014, it is unlikely that France Telecom is considering any kind of buyout of the operator. Currently speculation regarding the fate of the company revolves around either a third-party buyout of the stake  or flotation on the stock market.

Orange Tunisia launched less than a year ago; in 2010 the Tunisian government awarded it the country’s first 3G licence. According to Informa, the operator had 748,000 subscribers, placing it third behind market leader Orascom, which has 6 million and Tunisie Telecom, which has 4.3 million subscribers.

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