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French Version

Qordahi closes in on cellular transfer source says cellis likely to sign deal without changes

Qordahi closes in on cellular transfer source says cellis likely to sign deal without changes - The Daily Star

Mobile network operator Cellis will likely sign a transfer of ownership agreement with the Telecommunications Ministry on Saturday - without any changes - a source close to the deal said Friday.

Until late Friday, Cellis had not signed a transfer agreement with Telecoms Minister Jean-Louis Qordahi, who had clinched such a deal with LibanCell on Thursday. "In principle, Cellis and the ministry will ink the transfer agreement on Saturday," the source said. "The text of the agreement is not likely to be changed."

Cellis, which is majority owned by France Telecom, had asked Thursday for more time to study the agreement, which was amended by Qordahi to safeguard the state's rights.

Cellis chairman Salah Bou Raad had anticipated that the agreement would be signed Friday, but according to the source, was waiting for approval from Paris. France Telecom officials and lawyers were discussing details of the agreement until late Friday night. "It is practically impossible to alter the clauses, particularly after LibanCell had signed," said a source close to the minister.

LibanCell and Cellis were supposed to sign the agreements Monday, but Qordahi refused to sign the deals before introducing a change clarifying the government's rights. Once Cellis has signed the agreement, the government can begin the process of auctioning the two mobile phone licenses, after canceling its build-operate-transfer agreements with the two firms. The privatization of the two mobile phones licenses are central to the government's plan of reducing its $30 billion public debt.

Meanwhile, the legal firm accused of acting as legal adviser to LibanCell and the Higher Privatization Council refuted Friday conflict of interest accusations leveled by the minister.
Dewey Ballantine, which has been caught between the ongoing mobile dispute pitting Qordahi against Ghazi Youssef, head of the Higher Privatization Council, sent a statement to the minister's office rebutting his accusations.

A statement released by Qordahi's office accused Youssef and the firm, without naming it, of being involved in a conflict of interest by acting for the state's Higher Privatization Council while advising LibanCell. "Dewey International has never had any direct dealings with LibanCell," the firm said in a statement addressed to Qordahi. "Nor has there been any conflict of interest in representing the Higher Privatization Council. Dewey has in the past only represented an international investment bank used by LibanCell to raise money on international markets."

Qordahi had accused Youssef of abusing his post through a series of measures, including the appointment of Dewey. "LibanCell raised money before Dewey started advising the Higher Privatization Council," said the statement from the law firm. "Our work with the international investment bank falls in line with our other operations inside Lebanon, whether acting as a legal adviser to investment banks raising money for the Lebanese government or Lebanese firms over the past seven years." The firm said it had acted as legal adviser to 50 different parties involved in Lebanon in projects worth $15 billion.

Beirut 23-12-2002
Dania Saadi
The Daily Star

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