Kenneth Karlberg, head honcho for Baltics, Denmark and Norway of TeliaSonera, told a press conference that it was now or never for selling the state participations in Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) and Lattelekom. In case you are wondering, " never " is between six months and a year, when the Swedish telecoms group would like to finish some kind of deal with the Latvian government.
Karlberg and Erik Hallberg, an even bigger TeliaSonera honcho and member of Lattelekom's board (?) along with press flack (in a good sense) Kjell Lindström met with the troika appointed by the government to deal with the question of privatization of both partly state-owned Latvian operators. These were Minister of Economics Krisjanis Karins (sometimes referred to as "the widow's son), Minister of Transport Ainars Slesers and Minster of Finance Oskars Spurdzins.
Karlberg said the meeting had been "positive" and discussions would continue. There were no concrete results. He said he hoped the talks would be concluded in six months to a year with some kind of result.
The troika has been dealing with the question since last summer and had its mandate extended in the fall. According to my sources, one of the thornier issues is "legal matters that are not clear". What this seems to hint at is that the government is still sticking to the view that Lattelekom should be sold to anyone but TeliaSonera, therefore, a way of getting around TeliaSonera's right of first refusal has to be found.
However, reading between the lines of Karlberg's statement, it appears that the government may be open to arguments that, perhaps, selling Lattelekom as a stand-alone wireline operator may not be the smartest thing and that ownership of both fixed and mobile won't diminish competition in Latvia, but will increase it, as is the case, Karlberg said, in Lithuania and Estonia.
Another of my sources indicated that at the upper levels of LMT, there appears to be a belief that they will be the only maiden to marry the Swedish prince (women at a certain newspaper have made remarks that Karlberg is "quite handsome"). Hence LMT brushed off an offer to cooperate with a daughter of the sister they believe will be left behind. Of course, Juris Binde, the father of the proud "first bride" could be proven wrong.
Karlberg also spend considerable time describing the mating frenzy that has taken place in European telecoms (reminds me of the frog orgy near my summer house, everyone hopping on top of everyone else). TeliaSonera, he pointed out, has been mating with every available froggy in the Baltic pond and is now the number one bullfrog in most of the region's markets, and rich to boot. But where there are fat bullfrogs, there could be swooping Spanish storks or giant German turtles. We shall see.