Turkey’s telecommunication giant Turk Telekom — sold off for $6.55 billion in 2005 in what was Ankara’s largest-ever privatization — appears back on its way to government control via a sovereign wealth fund in a potential deal that would set another re-nationalization milestone in the country’s telecom industry.

Turk Telekom’s privatization ended up in shambles when the buyer of the 55% controlling stake — OTAS, a subsidiary of Oger Telecom, owned by the Lebanese Hariri family and Saudi Telecom — defaulted on a multibillion-dollar loan issued by a consortium of Turkish and foreign banks. The saga, which left Turk Telekom eviscerated and riddled with debt, culminated in creditor banks taking over OTAS’ 55% stake in 2018.

The Turkey Wealth Fund, chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, sees telecommunications as a strategic sector and appears bent on acquiring the 55% stake in the now revamped Turk Telekom, sources from the banking sector told Al-Monitor, adding that bargaining over the price is going on between the fund and the banks. An eventual deal would reinstate the public sector as the biggest actor in the telecommunications industry after a similar acquisition by the fund last year. Of the remaining shares of Turk Telekom, 30% are already publicly owned and 15% are on free float.

The banks, which had taken over Turk Telekom grudgingly, set up a special purpose vehicle to restructure the company and then sell their shares. For the banks, Turk Telekom was a risky burden with potential repercussions for the entire Turkish banking system. The rise of online communications during the COVID-19 pandemic is said to have helped efforts to regenerate the company. The Wealth Fund reportedly moved to acquire the controlling stake against the prospect of foreign buyers.



Written by Mustafa Sönmez