A Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) court has temporarily replaced the chairman of Vodacom Group’s minority partner in its Congolese cellular operation, opening the way for a sale of the venture.

Alieu Conteh, the chairman and founder of Congolese Wireless Network (CWN), will be replaced for at least three months by accountant Mupepe Lebo, according to a Court of Appeals judgment e-mailed by Feruzi Kalume Nyembwe, a director of Keratsu Holding, which owns 19.6 percent of CWN. CWN owns 49 percent of Vodacom Congo.

Conteh’s lawyers had asked for a delay in the execution of the judgment until the court gave further guidance on the provisional administrator’s powers, Joseph Lumbala, Conteh’s lawyer, said yesterday.

Lumbala said that Conteh would remain chairman of CWN until the court had explained its decision.

Vodacom said it had agreed on December 22 with CWN to appoint London-based NM Rothschild & Sons to “explore options” for its DRC unit.

At least four cellular operators, including MTN and Angola’s Unitel, had expressed interest in buying the venture, Conteh said last week.

MTN, Vodacom and Unitel have declined to comment on the developments.

CWN filed papers with the Congolese Commercial Court in Kinshasa last week trying to block the sale process until the company’s shareholders have resolved their dispute, according to copies of the filings provided by Conteh.

Nyembwe accused Conteh of a “lack of transparency” in his management of CWN and said he was blocking an audit of the company and a general shareholders’ meeting, according to the Court of Appeals decision.

Lumbala said a judge had no right to appoint an administrator to manage the company and Conteh would consider appealing the case to the country’s supreme court.

Conteh would accept the provisional administrator as long as he only worked on financial matters, he added.

The court’s judgment, dated October 21, said the dispute between CWN’s shareholders risked “paralysing the company”, giving the Court of Appeal the right to appoint a temporary administrator with “the broadest powers”.

The decision could allow CWN to hold a general assembly at which a sale of Vodacom Congo would be discussed if the provisional administrator agreed, Nyembwe said.

Vodacom Congo had 4.2 million subscribers at the end of March, according to company statements. – Bloombeg