LASCO sell-off moves along

  • 2002-04-11
  • Nick Coleman

A 32 percent stake in Latvia's Shipping Company was auctioned in exchange for privatization vouchers April 8, seven years after the country began planning the sale of one of Europe's largest shippers..

The 64,258,056 shares auctioned were valued at 1.11 lats ($1.73) each and are to be exchanged for vouchers issued to the public free of charge after the end of Soviet rule, said Riga Stock Exchange spokeswoman Krista Grintale.

The country's privatization agency is expected by April 30 to approve the results of the auction, clearing the way for the next stage in the company's sell-off: a sale of a 51 percent stake in a cash auction on the bourse, possibly in May or June.

"This was a very good start and shows there is interest from investors," said Grintale.

Not everyone is happy at the conduct of this sell-off, which was arranged after four attempts to attract a foreign strategic investor failed and caused the collapse of two governments.

That only 5,567 bidders participated in the auction has also raised suspicions of abuse, since the voucher system was intended to give ordinary people a share in the nation's wealth, said Aivars Ozolins, a columnist for the leading daily Diena.

"Latvians are not convinced, judging from the low interest among voucher holders. It's obvious the deal has been a clear illustration of what the World Bank calls state capture," said Ozolins.

Companies that had acquired vouchers on the secondary market had been pushing most strongly for rejecting offers by foreign bidders, Ozolins noted.