Thursday, February 10, 2005

TCIL drops third licence bid after visa hassle

Telecommunications Consultants India Limited (TCIL) has dropped out of contention for Latvia's third GSM and UMTS mobile telephony licence, citing visa-related travel problems for its executives who wanted to visit Latvia in early January.
TCIL finance director Chandra Shekhar told this blogger that a TCIL delegation attempting to fly to Riga, Latvia on Aeroflot from New Delhi via Moscow was denied boarding because they did not have Latvian visas in their passports. It is a widely-accepted airline practice to check whether international passangers have valid travel documents to their final destinations, since they can be fined and/or required to undertake return transportation of persons not admitted to country.
Shekhar said that TCIL executives travel widely across the world and could not, as a practical matter, send their passports from India to London to be processed over several days by the Latvian Embassy there.
Guntis Macs, the head of the licence tender commission and a deputy state secretary in the Ministry of Transport, said that every effort had been made to facilitate the arrival of the TCIL executives. Apparently, there was a misunderstanding or failure to communicate to Aeroflot that the India citizens would be issue visas upon arrival at Riga airport.
Whatever the reason, TCIL's withdrawal leaves only three known likely applicants for the pre-selection deadline on February 1 -- Denmark's TDC through its Lithuanian subsidiary Bite GSM, Latvian telecoms enterepreneur Peteris Smidre through his company Alina (with a possible US partner) and the mysterious International Telecommunications and Technology (IT&T), a consortium apparently formed for the sole purpose of bidding for the Latvian licence. Yet another executive for a major international telecoms supplier, who spent several years in Lebanon (where IT&T purports to have one of its offices) told this blogger none of his Middle Eastern contacts had heard of the company.
A rumor circulating in Riga claims that IT&T may be a front for Russia's Vimpelcom, though it is unlikely that such a large Russian operator would need to come into Latvia under a "front organization". The rumor is perhaps illustrative of the suspicions and speculation generated by the secrecy and obscurity around IT&T.

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