Egypt’s Orascom Telecom has announced that it will file a request for arbitration against Kuwait operator Wataniya Telecom to enforce what it claims to be a contractual right to acquire Wataniya’s 50% stake in Tunisiana, Tunisia’s second mobile operator.

Orascom owns the remaining 50% of Tunisiana, having sold Wataniya a 50% stake in October 2002 at a cost of US$113.5 million, including an immediate cash payment of US$90 million. Wataniya had unsuccessfully bid for the concession to operate Tunisia’s second mobile operation in its own right, and later accepted teaming up with Orascom to run Tunisiana.

Tunisiana had 2.388 million subscribers at the end of March 2006, translating to a 44% market share where market penetration reached 55% in Tunisia.

Orascom states that it has been unable to reach an amicable resolution of its claim that Wataniya has materially breached an agreement, and will therefore request for arbitration with the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Court of Arbitration.

“Wataniya has noted the public announcement made by Orascom Telecom,” Ahmad Haleem, CEO of Wataniya International told CommsMEA. Reading from a company statement, Haleem said it was Wataniya’s belief that the arbitration should have remained a confidential matter and that the Kuwaiti operator was disappointed by Orascom’s decision to make the matter public. “Wataniya remains of the firm belief that the grounds for the arbitration are entirely without merit,” Haleem added.