Despite rigorous denials from the Turkish cell phone operator Turkcell, the U.S. Treasury Department is thought to have 'alerted' the company to its displeasure with Turkcell's plan to purchase the leading Syrian mobile operator Syriatel. At the heart of Washington's problem is the high-profile sanctions it has imposed on the majority owner of Syriatel, Rami Makhlouf, who stands to receive an estimated payment of close to US$1 billion in cash if the sale to Turkcell goes ahead.
The U.S. sanctions on Syria explicitly state that no U.S. citizen can do business with Makhlouf--a problem for several Turkcell executives who have American citizenship and hold shares in the company. Those close to the deal believe it will still go ahead this month, helped by Turkcell negotiating a lower price following the sanctions on Makhlouf. However, Gulf mobile operator Zain has said it is also interested in buying Syriatel.
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