Wataniya Palestine launch plans, loans in doubt

28 May 2009

Loans earmarked to support the launch of a new mobile operator in the Palestinian Territory are at risk following continued delays in the release of frequencies by Israel, Reuters is reporting. Wataniya Palestine revealed in a letter to the former UK prime minister Tony Blair, that a loan worth USD85 million from sources including the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank’s private sector arm, could be cancelled as a result of the delays. In a separate letter the IFC noted its concerns that the delay of spectrum release could impact on the operator’s ability to meet its financial obligations. It is understood that should the failure to resolve the frequency allocation issue continue the IFC would view it as a ‘material adverse effect’ and could cancel the loan. Wataniya has called on Mr Blair, now acting as a Middle East envoy, to intervene in the matter, claiming that future foreign investment in the Palestinian economy could be at stake.

Wataniya Palestine, a subsidiary of Wataniya of Kuwait (itself controlled by Qatar Telecom), was declared the highest bidder for a combined 2G and 3G cellular concession in September 2006 with a reported bid of JOD251 million (USD352 million).Progress on the release of spectrum appeared to have been made last year, with reports in August 2008 confirming that an agreement between Wataniya and Israel’s Ministry of Communications had been reached. A commercial launch had been expected in early 2009.

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