France Telecom CEO Richard Sees Purchases and Partnerships in Africa

France Telecom SA (FTE) Chief Executive Officer Stephane Richard said the company has acquisition targets in the Middle East and Africa, where it may also set up partnerships to divvy up costs and win market shares.

“We are working on several targets,” Richard said in an interview with Bloomberg Television near Paris today. “We are working on a few situations exclusively in Africa and the Middle East, because this is the area that we have chosen to lead this international expansion in emerging markets.”

France Telecom, which has made acquisitions in Iraq and Morocco in the past year, is in exclusive talks to acquire an operator in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Richard is selling European assets to focus on expanding in the Middle East and Africa, where sales are growing at almost 10 times the pace of some European markets. The company last year set a target of doubling its emerging-market revenue by 2015, from about 3.3 billion euros ($4.7 billion) in 2009.

“There are big players in Africa, and we can have interesting dialogues and even partnerships with other players in Africa,” the CEO said, when asked whether France Telecom has plans that would mirror the merger of its U.K. mobile-phone unit with that of Deutsche Telekom AG. The French company also aims to strengthen its leadership in Egypt, he said.

The Paris-based company announced plans to sell its Swiss phone business in July, more than a year after antitrust regulators thwarted the company’s plan to merge the Swiss unit with competitor Sunrise.

Swiss Target

“The target is to try to close, or at least to have a mid- term agreement on that sale by the end of this year,” Richard said. “There’re a lot of people interested in this asset, substantially more than we expected, and we are very confident about our capacity to monetize properly this asset.”

Apax Partners LLP, EQT Partners and cable operator Liberty Global Inc. (LBTYA) are among companies considering bids for the Swiss division in a sale that may fetch 2 billion euros, three people familiar with the matter said last month.

France Telecom also plans to sell its minority stakes in Austrian and Portuguese operators “as soon as possible,” the CEO said. “We are in a close relationship and discussion with the majority shareholders of these assets,”

The French company owns a 35 percent stake in Orange Austria, and a 20 percent holding in Sonaecom SGPS SA, owner of Portugal’s smallest mobile-phone company.

To contact the reporter on this story: Francois de Beaupuy in Paris at fdebeaupuy@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Benedikt Kammel at bkammel@bloomberg.net

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