Autopage sale heads back to Competition Commission

Johannesburg - The sale of Altech Autopage’s subscriber base has been referred back to the Competition Commission, putting into question a planned shutdown date.

In September, Johannesburg listed Altron [JSE:AEL] announced that the Altech Autopage subscriber base was planned to be sold to MTN, Cell C and Vodacom for R1.46bn. Altech Autopage is a phone service provider that sells the likes of MTN, Cell C and Vodacom contracts

The Competition Commission recommended the mergers be approved without conditions, said the Competition Tribunal in a statement on Wednesday.

Subsequently, the Competition Tribunal had hearings on the Autopage subscriber sale this week.

But the Competition Tribunal has now referred the deal back to the Competition Commission because of concerns raised by a company called Saicom Holdings. Saicom Holdings is said to have agreements with Altech Autopage.

“It became clear during the hearing that the Competition Commission had not spoken to certain clusters of customers that may be affected by the proposed deal,” said the Competition Tribunal in a statement on Wednesday.

The Competition Tribunal further said that the Competition Commission is now tasked with submitting a supplementary report to the tribunal on January 29, 2016. The tribunal hearing with all the parties is then planned for February 9, 2016.

“The Competition Commission was specifically asked to determine whether the issues to be investigated will have any bearings on Cell C. Based on their findings, a separate hearing could be set aside Cell C prior to February 9, 2016,” said the Competition Tribunal.

“The Commission will investigate whether there was prior implementation of the transaction, as alleged by Saicom,” the Competition Tribunal added.

Meanwhile, it’s uncertain whether this move by the Competition Tribunal could delay Altech Autopage’s planned shutdown for early 2016.

UPDATE

Company officials released a statement about the tribunal hearing on late Thursday.

“Following a late submission by a participant on the day of the hearing, the Competition Tribunal referred the transaction back to the Competition Commission to ensure that a portion of the customer base be engaged with regard to the proposed transactions,” said Altech Autopage’s managing director Boyd Chislett in a statement.

 “While we were somewhat surprised by the last minute involvement of the participant, Saicom, in a procedure that has been ongoing since 23 September, we fully support the process and are committed to co-operating with the Competition Commission," said Chislett.

In an interview with Fin24 in November, Chislett said that the company was eyeing a February 29 2016 shutdown, depending on feedback from regulators.

CORRECTION: Fin24 previously incorrectly wrote 'Saicon'. The company's name is actually Saicom. The correction has been added in this story.

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