Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The muddlers decide - we pick a new half mother

The Latvian government more or less decided on a scheme for finding a new half-mother for Lattelecom. It is an amalgam of ex-Lattelecom CEO Nils Melngailis and The Blackstone Group's  plan B -- to buy 49 % of Lattelecom and Minister of Transport Ainars Slesers plan to swap 23 % of mobile operator LMT for TeliaSonera's stake in Lattelecom.
How it will work is that the 49 % held by the Swedes will be parked with the Latvian State Radio and Television Center (LSRTC) until it is bought by, most likely, Blackstone. Blackstone will most likely demand an ironclad management contract so that the government doesn't use its remaining 51 % majority to mess with strategy and operations.
TeliaSonera will then do a deal to get the rest of the shares in LMT held by Lattelecom and the state (they will already have the 23 % from the LSRTC and already directly hold 49 %). At the end of the whole Chinese fire-drill, the Swedes will have 100 % of LMT, the Latvian state and Blackstone --100 % of Lattelecom, plus covenants binding them to split Lattelecom into wholesale and retail units, as some other European operators, including Telia, the Swedish unit of TeliaSonera, have already done. 
I am a bit late writing this because I didn't want it to look like an April Fool's joke. Also, I am leaving for the US this morning and won't be writing until I get over there (Boston, then an IBM event in Las Vegas).
The whole thing could still crack up if 1) the Fatherland and Freedom party decides to swamp the coalition boat -- it wanted some kind of auction of 100 % of Lattelecom (they would have a potential ally in Slesers, who wanted  100 % for the state) 2) if the management agreement is unacceptable to the government, or the government's desire to modify such an agreement pushes Blackstone to walk away. 
Then there is the Baltkom/Peteris Smidre proposal.
So there is still a way to go and nothing is certain.
Yet another interesting question -- will Melngailis, who was closely linked to Blackstone's plan B, somehow return to running Lattelecom?  He is rumored to have been offered a position with Blackstone representing the private equity firm's interests in the Baltic, although there is at least one Baltic country that, until April 1, was giving Blackstone the finger. 

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