OT to raise stake in HTIL, eyes Europe

Daily Star Egypt Staff
4 Min Read

CAIRO: Orascom Telecom Chairman Naguib Sawiris is increasing his company s stake in Hutchison Whampoa s emerging markets phone unit, he told Reuters in an interview on Sunday. Sawiris said OT had a right to raise its stake by 3.7 percent as part of last December s $1.3 billion deal in which OT bought 19.3 percent of Hutchison Telecommunications International Ltd. (HTIL). He also said OT was looking to expand in Europe, singling out Greece, France, Austria and Holland as possible targets. We have a right to increase from 19.3 to 23 (percent) … We are doing that right now, Sawiris said. It will take a couple of weeks because we will have to get approvals from countries in which they are operating, he added. Previously secured loans and funds from existing cash flows would pay for the stake increase, Sawiris said. In March the firm was in the market with a $2 billion syndicated loan to pay for the 19.3 percent stake and refinance existing debt. Orascom operates GSM networks in Algeria, Pakistan, Egypt, Tunisia, Iraq, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe and is traded on the Egyptian bourse and on the London Stock Exchange. The firm s subscribers exceeded 30 million by the end of 2005. HTIL operates cellular networks in Hong Kong, India, Thailand, Israel, Macau and Ghana, and is starting operations in Indonesia and Vietnam. Sawiris also heads Weather Investments, which agreed last May to buy Italian telecoms firm Wind in a deal worth more than 12 billion euros ($14.5 billion). At the time he said he was considering bidding for Greece s third-largest mobile operator, TIM Hellas. On Sunday Sawiris reiterated his interest in the firm, as part of a plan to increase OT s presence in Europe to better compete in a sector he predicted would soon consolidate to only a few major players. We think things will pop up in the coming two years … We re looking at increasing our footprint in Europe because just being in Italy alone is very lonely, he said. We feel that consolidation is going to take place … If you are bigger, then there s a big advantage with the suppliers, with the roaming issue, with the handsets. So to stay alone like that as a single player is not going to be feasible, he added. When asked which countries looked the most feasible for expansion, he pointed to states with single operators and those with high populations. There s single operators in Austria, there s one in France, there s one in Holland, so there are opportunities still open, he said. If you look at what happened in America, all the big guys came together and there s half the number of operators you used to have a number of years ago … It s very clear that size matters, he added. Reuters

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