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Sawiris says he’s ‘finished with Canada’ after Allstream rejection

Naguib Sawiris poses for a portrait in the studio at The Globe and Mail in Toronto.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Egyptian telecom investor Naguib Sawiris vows to never again consider investing in Canada after the federal government's decision to block a $520-million bid for Manitoba Telecom Services Inc.'s Allstream division, according to a published report.

"I am finished with Canada, I tell you," Mr. Sawiris is quoted in a lengthy article in Ahram Online, the English-language website of Egyptian news organization Al-Ahram.

"Though Africa's ninth-richest person according to Forbes said he has no plans to sue Canada's government, Sawiris found its decision to block 'totally a farce because it's just unimaginable,'" the article says.

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"I regret that we wanted to invest in Canada," Mr. Sawiris is quoted as saying.

The bid by Accelero Capital Inc., led by Mr. Sawiris, was rejected by the Harper government on national security grounds.

Mr. Sawiris was an investor in Canada's telecom sector five years ago when he launched Wind Mobile, but he is no longer involved with the company.

About Canada's invoking unspecified security concerns in the decision to block the Allstream proposal, Mr. Sawiris told Ahram Online: "They don't have anything specific to say. They were very worried we could sue them. We spent millions of dollars to prepare [for the transaction]."

"It's totally unacceptable to have foreign investors waste their time and money, hold their capital captive, and then come up with a comment like that," he said about the government's move to block the bid because of security concerns.

Echoing comments he made in the wake of the Wind launch about an absence of political will in Canada to truly encourage competition, Mr. Sawiris slammed Canada's telecom "incumbents."

"The incumbents have enough muscle to prevent real competition in the market, and my advice for any foreign investors is not to waste their time investing in Canada. They change their laws for foreign investment, and then they block you," he is quoted as saying.

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Mr. Sawiris added that the only security-related issue he can think of is his investment in a North Korean cellular-phone operator.

"I still had the mobile licence in North Korea [five years ago, when he launched Wind]. There is nothing new. Where does the national security threat come from now? The Cairo administration should send a letter to Canada to ask why an Egyptian guy is a threat to Canadian national security. I want to know."

Mr. Sawiris offered to abandon sensitive federal government contracts if he bought Allstream but failed to allay national security worries, sources told The Globe and Mail earlier this month.

Another concession was to refrain from using telecom equipment from Chinese gear maker Huawei Technologies Co. ltd. on the Allstream network, according to the sources.

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About the Author
Quebec Business Correspondent

Bertrand has been covering Quebec business and finance since 2000. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2000, he was the Toronto-based national business correspondent for Southam News. He has a B.A. from McGill University and a Bachelor of Applied Arts from Ryerson. More

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