Bulgaria’s competition regulator gives green light to controversial BTC deal

Bulgaria’s competition regulator gives green light to controversial BTC deal
By Dimitar Koychev in Sofia January 11, 2016

Bulgaria's Commission for Protection of Competition (CPC) has given the green light to Viva Telecom, a recently set up company owned by local businessman Spas Roussev, to buy InterV Investment, the owner of the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company (BTC), the country's largest telecoms operator by revenue.

The regulator said it had not received opinions from interested third parties within the seven-day deadline from announcing the planned concentration case. Its decision can be appealed.

The approval was the only necessary regulatory condition for the deal to go ahead, after Roussev won in November a controversial tender with a €330mn bid. The tender was organised by VTB Capital, an investment banking unit of sanctions-hit Russian financial group VTB, after InterV's failure to repay a €150mn loan in time.

However, the completion of the deal still has other hurdles to clear. InterV shares have been frozen by a court injunction requested by the Bulgarian authorities, while an obscure Russian investor, who claims to own a majority stake in InterV, vowed to fight for his “stolen” equity stake by all possible legal means.

Milen Velchev, the head of VTB Capital’s Bulgarian unit, told bne IntelliNews in November that he didn’t expect any problems in the completion of the sale. Roussev is best known for his close relationship with Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Bulgaria’s last king and its prime minister from 2001 to 2005, and some of his ministers, including Velchev, who was finance minister back then.

At the same time, Russian businessman Dmitri Kosarev told bne IntelliNews that InterV shares were blocked by Luxembourg prosecutors in relation to a probe launched on November 18 on the request of his company Empreno Ventures. Kosarev asserts that he is the majority owner of BTC, having acquired the shares belonging to controversial Bulgarian tycoon Tsvetan Vassilev.

Before that, InterV’s shares were frozen by Luxembourg prosecutors on the request of the Bulgarian authorities, which are seeking to recover some of the billions of euros that vanished with the collapse of Corporate Commercial Bank (Corpbank) in 2014. Like BTC, Corpbank’s main shareholder was Vassilev.

BTC, which operates under the brand name Vivacom, is the biggest player in the fixed-line segment in Bulgaria and the third largest mobile operator after the local units of international telecom groups Telekom Austria and Norway's Telenor.