Bolivia wins ruling over Telecom Italia dispute

LA PAZ, July 31 (Reuters) - Bolivia has won a United States court ruling over $36 million that Telecom Italia transferred to U.S. banks from its former subsidiary Entel, which was nationalized earlier this year, the government said late on Thursday.

Bolivian President Evo Morales announced the government takeover of Entel on May 1, claiming Telecom Italia failed to meet investment commitments and owed the state $645 million in fines and taxes.

Bolivia's newly formed Nationalization Ministry said the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has ruled that some $36 million under Entel's name in four bank accounts belongs to Bolivia and not to Telecom Italia.

The ruling forces the banks to turn the money over to Bolivia because the Bolivian state has a majority in Entel, the ministry said in a statement.

Last week a British appeal court issued a similar ruling confirming that some $49 million deposited in a British bank account and claimed by Telecom Italia belongs to Bolivia.

Entel is the largest telecommunications company in Bolivia, commanding 80 percent of the long distance market and 70 percent of mobile telephone services.

Telecom Italia has asked the World Bank to arbitrate in a dispute with Bolivia over compensation for the state takeover.

But Bolivia says that its withdrawal from the World Bank's International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) last year makes the country immune to the Italian firm's claim.

The nationalization of Entel is part of a drive by leftist President Morales to return to state control key economic sectors. (Reporting by Carlos Quiroga and Eduardo Garcia; Editing by Brian Moss)

From Reuters

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