Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris said he’s in discussions with partners to help finance a bid for Orange Switzerland, the France Telecom SA (FTE) mobile-phone unit that may fetch about 2 billion euros ($2.8 billion).
“I wouldn’t do it alone,” he said in a telephone interview yesterday. “We are looking for partners.”
Sawiris, the founder of Orascom Telecom Holding SAE (ORTE), said four bidders had been selected to make offers, with final bids due by the end of the year. The asset has also attracted interest from Iliad SA (ILD)’s billionaire founder Xavier Niel, who teamed up with Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s private-equity unit in a bid, and from private-equity firms including Apax Partners LLP and EQT Partners, people familiar with the matter have said.
France Telecom is exiting Switzerland as part of a plan to reorient its business toward faster-growing markets in the Middle East and Africa. The Paris-based company this month agreed to buy Congo-China Telecom, the fourth-largest mobile- phone operator in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Chief Executive Officer Stephane Richard aims to sell the Swiss business by the end of this year. The former French phone monopoly is under pressure at home due in part to Iliad, which is entering the French mobile market in 2012 with a pledge to drive down prices that are higher than the European average.
Sawiris declined to name the financial funds he’s in discussions with. He said he had no plans to sell or swap his stake in Mobinil, his Egyptian joint venture with France Telecom.
“It’s completely farfetched,” he said in the interview. “Mobinil belongs to Orascom with other shareholders. We have not decided to dispose of Mobinil. If I bid, I would do it on a personal basis.”
France’s largest phone company “will look at” any proposal from Sawiris to swap shares in Mobinil for Orange Switzerland shares, Richard said in an Oct. 6 interview.
France Telecom is also targeting its Austrian and Portuguese units for disposal. Hutchison Whampoa Ltd., the Hong Kong-based company controlled by billionaire Li Ka-shing, is in talks that may lead to the takeover of Orange Austria, co-owned by private-equity firm Mid Europa Partners, people familiar with the process said this week.
Sawiris, 57, may also be interested in telecommunications assets in Austria, according to an investor in Telekom Austria AG (TKA), the country’s biggest phone company.
Telekom Austria Bid?
Ronny Pecik, who owns a fund that has bought options to acquire 5.4 percent of Vienna-based Telekom Austria, said in an interview yesterday that he had teamed up with Sawiris to buy shares in the phone operator. Sawiris declined to comment.
Sawiris has stepped back from day-to-day management of his telecom businesses. In January, he sold his 50 percent stake in Tunisiana, the mobile phone operator in Tunisia, for $1.2 billion to Qatar Telecom QSC.
In April, shareholders approved a $6.5 billion deal to merge his Rome-based Wind Telecomunicazioni SpA, including most of his Orascom Telecom assets, with Russia’s VimpelCom Ltd. (VIP) to create the world’s sixth-largest mobile phone company, which now has 193 million subscribers.
Telekom Austria has a market value of about 3.8 billion euros. The stock dropped 1.6 percent to 8.48 euros in Vienna yesterday. France Telecom slipped 1.3 percent to 13.41 euros on the Paris exchange, valuing the company at 35.5 billion euros.
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