Digicel’s Burmese days in doubt

Reports indicate Denis O’Brien may have given up on business in Burma

Denis O’Brien: there is speculation that Digicel may be preparing to sell the vestiges of its business in the emerging economy of Myanmar, or Burma if you have an old-school colonial bent.  Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Denis O’Brien: there is speculation that Digicel may be preparing to sell the vestiges of its business in the emerging economy of Myanmar, or Burma if you have an old-school colonial bent. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

 

It may seem to regular readers that we are obsessed by Denis O’Brien’s Caribbean telco Digicel around these parts, given the frequency with which we cover it. If so, it is only because it is such an interesting company, constantly popping up in some deal or other.

This time, there is speculation that Digicel may be preparing to sell the vestiges of its business in the emerging economy of Burma (Myanmar).

Oh, what might have been for the company there...

Digicel’s heart is in the Caribbean, but its brains come from Ireland. Aside from its founder, O’Brien, directors include turnaround specialist Leslie Buckley, Siteserv chief executive Sean Corkery, Dublin-based über accountant Greg Sparks and veteran politico PJ Mara.

Their company spent $31 million on a determined attempt to gain a mobile licence in Burma in 2013, which could have doubled its size , but it lost out.

Not wishing to waste its efforts, Digicel set up Myanmar Tower Company (MTC), a joint venture infrastructure business with local tycoon Serge Pun. It scored a contract delivering masts for Ooredoo, a successful licence bidder.

The Myanmar Times this week reported that MTC is now to be sold which, if it is true, would indicate that O’Brien may have given up on trying to augment his fortune via the country, which is something of an Asian Klondike.

Digicel said it “does not comment on such speculation” when asked if the story is true.

Pun’s Yoma Strategic Holdings did not respond to a request for comment, while local companies that would be in the know were also circumspect.

When asked if there was a deal cooking, somebody somewhere muttered apologetically about a non-disclosure agreement. That says it all really, doesn’t it?

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