By Ese Awhotu:

The involvement of China’s second largest telecom-munication company, China Unicom, in a technical partnership with New Generation Telecommunications Limited, the preferred bidder of 75 per cent stake in Nigerian Telecom-munications Limited (NITEL) and its subsidiary M-Tel has taken a new twist.

Yesterday, China Unicom(Hong Kong) Limited, which last week denied any involvement in the bid for Nitel, said a unit of the company was interested in making an investment in Nitel.

According to a filling at the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, yesterday, China Unicom said its wholly owned unit, China Unicom (Europe) Operations Ltd “would be interested in exploring the possibility of equity investment in Nitel.”

Bloomberg reported that China Unicom’s statement said the subsidiary also “indicated interest in the provision of technical and managerial support services.”

However, according to Reuters, China Unicom denied involvement in the project by its Hong Kong-listed company, its state-run parent or any of their units.

The Telecom-munication Company said its unlisted parent had not had any direct discussions with parties to the proposed privati-sation, saying that the London subsidiary had been in contact with potential bidders for Nitel but did not name them.

China Unicom’s statement said that a possible investment in Nitel is “subject to certain conditions being fulfilled without elaborating.”

The Chinese company hasn’t started discussions on any “substantive and legally binding agreements,” it said.

China Unicom said it would continue to observe the development of Nitel’s proposed sale to private investors and will make announcements as and when appropriate

Seeking to clarify days of confusion over reports of its participation in the bid for Nitel, Unicom said its British arm had been in contact with bidders taking part in the privatisation process.

A spokeswoman for China Unicom, Sophia Tso had on Thursday last week denied the company’s involvement in the privatisation of Nitel and said the company wasn’t part of any consortium as had been stated by the Bureau of Public Enterprises.

On Friday, Unicom China, Hong Kong office also confirmed that the company had no involvement in the NITEL deal, according to Forbes.

A second company had also denied it took part in the bidding process. South African phone company Telkom SA Ltd. (TKG.JO) said it didn’t participate in the bidding for Nitel or any part of the Nigerian company, a spokesman told Dow Jones Newswires.

However, Usman Gumi, chief executive officer of GiCell Wireless Ltd., insisted that the London office of China Unicom agreed to a technical partnership in the New Generation consortium and suggested the Hong Kong office may not have been informed.

Frightened by the series of denials, the BPE was compelled to issue a statement at the weekend saying it stood by the results of the bidding it conducted for Nitel and its subsidiary M-Tel.

BPE’s statement contained a letter from Unicom China (Europe) Limited signed by its President William Mo confirming the company’s involvement in the Nitel deal as a technical partner to New Generation Telecommunications Limited..

The letter read “We are pleased to inform you that we are willing to be technical partner to support New Generation Telecommunications Limited Consortium to bid for NITEL, and to provide technical and managerial support on terms to be agreed later, when the bid is finally won. We will also consider equity participation of not less than 20% subject to final agreement with the consortium”

New Generation Telecommunication Limited emerged preferred bidder for Nitel after offering $2.5bn for 75 per cent of Nitel, an amount that was $1.5bn above that offered by the reserved bidder and considered extremely high for Nitel that is said to have a value of about $500m.

New Generation consortium named Minerva Group of the United Arab Emirates, and GiCell, of Nigeria and BGL an indigenous finance house and brokerage. The consortium has until Friday this week to pay 30 per cent of the bid offer as industry experts are skeptical as to the ability of the preferred bidder to meet its financial obligation and motive behind China’s interest in investing in Nigeria’s Telecommunication sub-sector.

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