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Italy's Enel asks Egypt's Weather Investments to clarify bid for Wind

Orascom CEO plans to make operator part of region-wide telecom giant

Italian energy giant Enel SpA has asked Egyptian-backed Weather Investments to clarify part of its bid for telecoms operator Wind SpA, with a view to entering exclusive talks with the consortium.

Enel, Europe's second-largest utility by market capitalization, held a board meeting Saturday to discuss offers from Weather Investments, led by the chairman of Egypt's Orascom Telecom Holding, and another consortium, led by the New York-based Blackstone Group.

The two consortiums had made offers for a controlling stake in Wind, which is Italy's third-largest mobile operator and is owned by Enel.

The Enel board asked Chief Executive Paolo Scaroni to continue negotiations with Weather Investments "to clarify some aspects with an aim to beginning exclusive negotiations," Enel said in a statement released after the meeting.

For Enel, the sale of Wind will largely complete a major restructuring begun three years ago by CEO Scaroni. Enel has shed noncore assets to refocus on its power business.

Weather Investments was already considered a front-runner in the bidding because it had offered more than Blackstone and a more convincing strategy to develop Wind's business internationally.

Orascom Chairman and Chief Executive Naguib Sawiris wants to make Wind a key part of a telecoms company headquartered in Rome and spreading from the Mediterranean to Asia. That strategy has been well received by the Italian government, which owns 30 percent of Enel and appoints most of the utility's top executives.

Orascom Telecom Holding was established in 1998, and has grown to become one of the largest and most diversified GSM network operators in the Middle East, Africa, and Pakistan. Starting with MobiNil in Egypt, Orascom Telecom continued to expand its network to cover Algeria, Pakistan, Tunisia, Congo, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq and just recently to Bangladesh.

It has sold its networks in Jordan, Yemen, and other sub-Saharan countries, the last of which is the Ivory Coast. The company's subscriber base was recorded at 15 million subscribers at the end of last year

Enel values Wind at $8.1 billion, excluding $8.7 billion in debt. Wind is expected to begin making profits by the end of this year

Beirut,04 18 2005
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