China Mobile, the world’s largest wireless network operator by subscribers, is reportedly seeking a partner for its plan to buy the Iranian, Syrian and Sudanese assets of South Africa’s MTN Group. According to the South China Post, China Mobile plans to be a junior partner in any transaction, partly because its management feels it does not have the necessary skills to operate the assets, and can learn from a majority partner. The Chinese company has supposedly approached – or plans to approach – companies with a strong African and Middle Eastern presence such as France Telecom, Zain, Orascom and Etisalat. The paper adds that MTN is considering selling its stakes in the three countries in part because of issues with the US Department of the Treasury’s Committee on Foreign Investment: the Americans have labelled Iran and Syria as state sponsors of terrorism and Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, has been indicted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC). According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms database, MTN currently owns a 49% stake in MTN Irancell, 85% of MTN Sudan and 75% of MTN Syria.
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