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The financial future of Europe's third biggest ISP is once again in the spotlight following reports that it's looking to flog its French business.

According to reports from France, Tiscali - which has 7.7m active subscribers in Europe - has been trotting around potential buyers seeing if they would be interested in snapping up the French operation. A bank has been retained to handle any possible sale, which could net the company between €200-250m, with unnamed sources claiming that flogging its French business is one way of paying off its debts.

However, in a follow-up report by Reuters, a Tiscali spokeswoman has been quoted as saying that the ISP wants "to remain in France" yet concedes that "some operators [have made] offers for the unit". Neuf Telecom has been named as one of those outfits to have made a bid.

Last week, Tiscali confirmed it had flogged around 5 per cent of its shares to Société Générale to raise €50m (£35m). In a statement confirming the sale the ISP said: "This capital injection runs in parallel with the ongoing disposal plan of non-core assets and brings total new funds raised by the Tiscali Group to date - since announcement of the refinancing plan last August - to over €150m (£106m). This will help the company meet its financial deadlines and further support growth."

A month ago, Tiscali denied that it was prepping the sale of Liberty Surf, its French operation, to France Telecom. According to reports at the beginning of December, the European ISP had already hired a bank to handle the sale but this was denied by Tiscali.

Said a Tiscali spokesman: "We deny that we are in talks with France Telecom about a sale of our French unit which remains a core asset for us. No mandate has been given to a bank."

The mounting speculation concerning the future of Tiscali comes as the ISP is looking to raise cash to pay off a €250m (£173m) loan due next July. In Q3 2004 it raised €81.3m (£56m) by flogging its businesses in Austria, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and South Africa after announcing plans to retreat from non-core countries. ®

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