UK court to hear Batelco's $185 mn case against India partner C Sivasankaran

Reuters Posted online: Tuesday, Nov 26, 2013 at 0000 hrs
Dubai : Batelco will go to a British court in May in a bid to recoup $185 million from a failed Indian venture, as the Bahraini firm tries to avoid following Gulf peer Etisalat in suffering big losses on the subcontinent.

The ongoing troubles of Batelco and the United Arab Emirates' Etisalat show the difficulties some foreign telecom operators have found working in a competitive Indian market.

Britain's Commercial Court will hear Batelco's case against former Indian partner Siva and its chairman Chinnakannan Sivasankaran on May 7, a court official said.

The Bahraini firm is claiming the $174.5 million it paid Chennai-based Siva for a 43 percent stake in Indian operator STel in 2009, plus $10.3 million and a further $30,000 a day.

Batelco and Etisalat, which in 2008 bought 45 percent of Swan Telecom, later renamed Etisalat DB, had hoped the Gulf's large Indian expatriate communities would help them prosper in India, but both were late entrants and struggled to gain a foothold.

Between them, the two units accounted for only 5.2 million of India's 894 million subscribers at the end of 2011 and in February 2012 the two affiliates were ordered to be stripped of their licences as part of a corruption probe that pre-dated the Gulf operators' investments.

Batelco swiftly announced it was selling its stake in STel back to Siva, but when Siva failed to pay by an October 2012 deadline, the Bahraini firm launched legal proceedings.

Batelco claims it had an option potentially allowing it to sell its S Tel stake back to Siva, court documents show. The Bahraini firm argues Siva's failure to arrange $281 million of debt for S Tel entitled Batelco to trigger the sell option, which Siva disputes.

Batelco and Siva then provisionally agreed for Siva to buy back the S Tel shares at the original sale price and for Batelco to acquire 79 million equity shares in Tata Teleservices Ltd - India's No.6 mobile operator by subscribers - held by the Chennai group for the same amount.

But Batelco and Siva disagree over the whether these deals were to be completed simultaneously, with the Bahraini company insisting they were two separate transactions and should not be considered a share exchange. Neither sale was completed.

Batelco did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Siva declined to comment because the matter is sub judice.

Etisalat, which took an impairment of 3 billion dirhams ($828 million) on Etisalat DB in the fourth quarter of 2011, is still trying to extricate itself from India and was in court in Mumbai this month to wind up its affiliate, according to local press reports.

Etisalat also took an impairment of 2.37 billion dirhams against its Pakistani unit in 2012.