Tume Ahemba

February 19, 2010 08:18PM

Nigeria’s privatisation agency on Friday published letters promising financing from Dubai and China for a $2.5 billion bid for former telecoms monopoly Nitel, which it said were seen by its advisor, BNP Paribas.

Nigeria announced its preferred bidder for Nitel on Tuesday, naming China Unicom and the Minerva Group from Dubai as part of the New Generation Telecommunications Ltd consortium, whose bid valued Nitel at five times what many thought it was worth.

Doubts surfaced over the planned deal two days later when Unicom (0762.HK), China’s second biggest carrier, denied involvement and there was uncertainty over the identity of the Dubai company.

The Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) said it stood by the bid process for a stake in of one of the world’s fastest growing telecoms markets and sent out a copy of what it said was a letter from Minerva Group in Dubai pledging financing.

The letter, signed by Minerva Group chairman Ahmed Abdullah, states that the Dubai firm intends to acquire 68 percent of the bid consortium, equivalent to 51 percent of Nitel.

“Additionally we can also provide a loan up to and in excess of $5 billion as and when due following Minerva procedure,” the letter, dated Jan. 19, says.

The letter, on Minerva Group headed notepaper, gives telephone and fax numbers as well as a P.O. Box in the United Arab Emirates, along with email addresses including public Gmail and Yahoo! accounts.

Previous efforts by Reuters to identify the Minerva Group involved in the bid proved fruitless.

The BPE also published excerpts from a letter it said was from China Unicom (Europe) Operations Limited accepting to be technical partner in the bid and saying it would consider an equity participation of at least 20 percent.

“The letters in reference were immediately sent to our advisers, BNP Paribas, for conduct of due diligence and confirmation of the validity,” the BPE statement said.

It said BNP Paribas (BNPP.PA) had called the signatory on the China Unicom letter, named as Williams So, by phone and that he had subsequently confirmed his involvement by email.

Nigeria has been trying to sell Nitel for almost a decade and the controversy over the latest effort to do so is embarrassing for sub-Saharan Africa’s second biggest economy.

“We want to reassure Nigerians that our commitment to an open and transparent reform and privatisation process will not waiver,” the BPE said in its statement.

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