Assets used to form the mobile business now operating as Airtel Tanzania were transferred out of government ownership illegally, the country’s authorities decreed following a probe.
Bloomberg reported comments from the office of President John Magufuli, stating the country will now open talks with Airtel to recover the stake claimed to be rightfully owned by the nation.
The complaint dates back to the part privatisation of Tanzania Telecommunications Company in 2001. Assets from the deal were used to create the wireless operator now using the Airtel brand. The unit underwent a number of ownership changes between its formation and eventual purchase by Airtel in 2010, as part of an $11 billion acquisition of several African operations from Kuwait-based group Zain.
Tanzania’s probe into the privatisation followed a televised statement by Magufuli in December 2017 claiming the unit – which is the country’s third largest operator – belonged to the state.
In fresh comments to Bloomberg, Tanzania’s finance minister Philip Mpango said the privatisation was “very dirty and terrible” adding “our country was conned and a lot of money was lost”.
After the probe was announced Airtel denied any wrong-doing and said its transaction had been approved by the then government. Days before proceedings began, Bharti Airtel chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal said the company’s “rushed” entry into Africa in 2010 was the biggest mistake of his professional career.