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Qwest Communications International, the third-largest US telecommunications company, is searching for a new chief executive after Richard Notebaert announced on Monday that he would retire as soon as a successor is found.

Mr Notebaert, 59, has been chairman and chief executive of Qwest since June 2002, taking over at a time when the company was struggling to cope with huge debts accumulated during the internet boom of the 1990s.

Qwest, based in Denver, Colorado, has moved back to profitability, and Mr Notebaert is credited with saving the group from bankruptcy.

The announcement from Mr Notebaert sent Qwest’s shares lower, down nearly 8 per cent to $9.36 during trading in New York.

Mr Notebaert’s move followed the retirement of Qwest’s chief financial officer in April and the announcement last week that Barry Allens, executive vice-president of operations, would retire at the end of this month.

The executives took over to stabilise the telecoms group after financial turmoil under former chief executive Joseph Nacchio, who in April was found guilty of insider trading on stock sales worth millions of dollars in April and May of 2001.

Prosecutors had accused Mr Nacchio, who wasalso acquitted of some charges, of selling Qwest shares in 2001 after company insiders warned him that the phone carrier could not meet its financial forecasts.

Mr Nacchio has denied any wrongdoing.

The charges against Mr Nacchio follow a three-year investigation of Qwest and its former management by federal prosecutors and the Securities and Exchange Commission that have led to a string of indictments and settlements.

Like its rivals, Qwest has focused on attracting DSL subscribers and selling “bundles” of voice, data and video services, to offset the continued loss of traditional fixed phone lines.

Mr Notebaert led efforts by Qwest to acquire MCI Communications in 2005, a fight which was won by Verizon Communications.

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