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Citycell gets more time to clear dues

by August 29, 2016 General

Citycell received a shot in the arm after the Supreme Court yesterday granted the beleaguered mobile operator about three months to clear a portion of Tk 478 crore in dues.

The operator will have to pay Tk 318.45 crore — two-thirds of its dues to Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission — by September 30.

The remaining amount of Tk 159.27 crore must be paid before November 30, said Attorney General Mahbubey Alam.

However, Barrister Reza-e-Rakib, who represented the BTRC in the hearing yesterday, told The Daily Star that the deadline for the second instalment is 30 days from September 30.

Should the operator fail to pay this time as well, the BTRC will be given a free rein to take any decision it wants, said Md Jahurul Haque, legal commissioner of the telecom watchdog.

Furthermore, Citycell will have to pay a fine of Tk 18.20 lakh to the BTRC for each day of operation between August 16 and November 30. The Supreme Court has not given any deadline to pay the sum.

Citycell welcomed the Supreme Court order, saying it will give them some much-needed breathing space.

“We are hopeful that we will manage to pay off our dues within the deadline this time,” said Mehboob Chowdhury, chief executive officer of Citycell.

The operator is also in talks with potential buyers, he said, adding that they will try to crack a deal at the earliest. 

One investor from China was in Dhaka recently for talks, but the offer was too low, said a Citycell official asking not to be named.

Another interested party hails from Mexico and its offer was deemed acceptable by Citycell. But the deal cannot be completed as the party is facing problems remitting funds to Bangladesh, he said.

Earlier on August 16, the telecom regulator served notice on Citycell on why the BTRC should not cancel its licence despite failing to pay dues of Tk 477.63 crore. Citycell has 30 days to respond to the letter.

The government had also planned to bring down the curtains on Citycell’s operations on August 24 but the move was thwarted by a High Court bench, which asked the BTRC to wait until September 16.

The BTRC appealed against the High Court order on August 24.

On July 31, the regulator issued a public notice asking Citycell’s subscribers to switch to another operator by August 16; the government later extended the deadline to August 23.

After getting the public notice on August 1, Citycell sought time until December 31 to clear its dues.

Singapore’s SingTel owns a 44.54 percent share in Citycell, Pacific Motors 37.95 percent and Far East Telecom 17.51 percent.

The shareholders have been trying to sell the company for the last few years but they did not find any interested party. Insiders said Citycell has about Tk 4,000 crore in loans and dues with different banks, financial institutions, the National Board of Revenue, the BTRC, vendors and other operators.

The operator’s revenue was Tk 139.77 crore in fiscal 2014-15, according to the BTRC. Its revenue was Tk 230.52 crore in fiscal 2013-14 and Tk 267.64 crore in 2012-13. Citycell’s subscription had reached a peak of 19 lakh in 2011, but it has been a minor player in the market for at least 10 years now.

Currently, it has about 1.5 lakh active connections, and a good number has already jumped ship after getting the BTRC’s notice.