Mergers, Acquisitions and Financial Results

Equipment vendor Siemens Telecommunications has sought to distance itself from Optis Telecommunications, a bidder for a 51% stake in the second national telephone operator, saying it had no official involvement in the Optis bid.

Optis shifted the blame for apparent plagiarism in parts of its bid document to Siemens, saying the company was instrumental in preparing its bid for control of the proposed second national operator (SNO).

According to documents Optis presented to ICASA, the Independent Communications Authority of SA, Siemens was to be responsible for the entire Optis bid. The consortium says Siemens withdrew its support at the last minute after trying to extort R2.7 million for its ongoing support. Optis has supported its version of events with a statement from a former Siemens employee.

However, in a statement released today, Siemens said it had not provided assistance to Optis or its rival Goldleaf Trading."Siemens does not have a partnership or agreement with either of the two bidders for the 51% stake in the SNO, nor did it officially assist or supply any information to either of them to enable them to submit a bid," the company says. "While Siemens was approached by one bidder to assist in the preparation of documentation for the adjudication process, it was and still is Siemens’ policy that any assistance in this regard would have been contrary to the scope of Siemens’ interest in the SNO project."

But according to former Siemens employee Stanley Phekani, Siemens was deeply involved in the Optis bid until September, shortly before it was submitted.

According to Phekani, he and fellow Siemens employees met with Optis several times."I was instructed by my superior [business development director Fernando] Goncalves to assist Optis in the preparation of their SNO licence bid document," he says. Goncalves later instructed him to terminate the support, but by that time he had "already supplied a lot of information to Optis".

Optis chairman Alan Friedland supports Phekani’s version of events, and says information was used with Siemens’ permission "after several meetings with Siemens’ representatives". Siemens is conducting an internal investigation to determine if any employees provided unauthorised assistance to either bidder, and has vowed to take disciplinary steps or even lay criminal charges if such evidence emerges. Phekani resigned from Siemens in December, at the same time the investigation was launched.