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DoT’s 3G auctioneer is an advisor to Aircel
New Delhi: The 3G spectrum auctions, scheduled from January 14, could be headed for yet another controversy. The government-appointed firm for conducting the e-auctions, NM Rothschild, is an advisor to Aircel, the country's seventh largest mobile operator, to help it find a buyer for its tower business.

This has raised issues of conflict of interest in the telecom industry that is gearing for aggressive bidding. Though no operators are willing to come on record, murmurs of discontent are loud enough.

“Obviously, Aircel, in which Malaysia's Maxis has a 74% stake, is going to bid for 3G spectrum. How can the government appoint an agency that is also advising Aircel on its tower sale? The DoT must look into the matter,” said a senior official of a mobile firm, which would bid in the auctions.

Aircel owns about 12,000 towers worth Rs 100-150 crore, and is looking at selling 51% to 100% of its tower business. The company has appointed Rothschild, Nomura and Standard Chartered to advise it on the deal. So far, four firms—American Tower Corporation, Bharti Infratel, GTL Infrastructure and Reliance Infratel—have shown interest in buying the towers, say industry sources.

<img style="float:left; margin:0px 10px 0px 0px;" src="" />They said since Rothschild was selected by the government last year, it should not have taken up the Aircel offer, as it would be a clear case of conflict of interest.

Anshuman Thakur of Rothschild, who attended the DoT’s pre-bid conference on Monday, told FE: “Both the parties, DoT and Aircel, are aware of it. That's all I can say.” However, a senior DoT official said he wasn’t aware of this and would look into the matter.

A telecom analyst told FE, “Obviously, independence in the processes must be maintained and in case Rothschild is an advisor to Aircel, and the company is going to bid for 3G spectrum, then it clearly indicates a conflict of interest”

The matter is sure to kick up a ruckus since the 3G spectrum auctions would be a keen contest by the mobile operators for the scarce radio waves.

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