France Telecom denies wrongdoing in Tunisia

The debacle over Tunisia’s Orange mobile operator continues, after France Telecom was accused of corruption in order to secure a share in Tunisia’s third mobile operating license. According to a French website, corruption and under-the-table bribes were employed last year to begin operations.

The French website claimed that although Orange paid the US$180 million license fee, it did not go to the government as planned, but was invested in a company owned by a daughter of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and her husband Marwan Mabrouk.

Citing a statement posted on Twitter, the AFP news agency said the company claimed the article was based “on erroneous information that is a serious attack on the reputation of the group.”

“Taking into account the seriousness of the accusations, Orange is studying all of its legal options to defend its interests and image in order to be able to calmly pursue its activities in Tunisia.”

It comes as the government appears ready to nationalize Orange in order to maintain operations, a source from the ministry of communications said.

Orange launched in the country in May 2010 and by the end of the year had some 750,000 subscribers, placing it third in the country behind Orascom and Tunisie Telecom.

It was also awarded the country’s first 3G network by the government, which may give the government more initiative to become majority stakeholder, Reuters reported.

By Jonathan Terry