Hutchison’s Fok ‘Feels Positive’ After Austrian Orange Meeting

Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. Managing Director Canning Fok said he held “constructive talks” today about his planned purchase of mobile operator Orange Austria with Austrian competition watchdog BWB.

Fok spent more than an hour talking with the BWB, or Bundeswettbewerbsbehoerde, the only regulator whose approval is missing for the Orange purchase, he told journalists in Vienna. He discussed consumer benefits with officials there and “feels positive” about the talks, Fok said.

“I must say that although I cannot report what is the decision -- nothing is decided -- the meeting was very constructive and I feel very positive about it,” Fok said. “Obviously the decision has to come from the competition authorities, so we have to wait.”

Hutchison, controlled by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing, won European Union approval for its 1.3 billion-euro ($1.7 billion) purchase of Orange after it agreed to divest radio spectrum and offer network access to new rivals. The deal agreed in February would create the Alpine country’s third-biggest mobile operator. Orange is currently owned jointly by France Telecom SA and Mid Europa Partners.

In a related deal that is an “integral” part of the transaction, Telekom Austria AG, the nation’s biggest phone company, agreed to buy Orange’s prepaid operator Yesss! for 390 million euros. While the BWB objected to that purchase, the Austrian cartel court approved it last month. BWB said it will decide whether to appeal the court’s decision next week.

Fok declined to comment on whether Hutchison had offered the regulator new concessions, saying only that “it has been a solid discussion” and that he had to now await the ruling.

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