SingTel – BT

SingTel fully supportive of Zain deal: Bharti

Bharti reportedly in talks with banks; funding not an issue, says chairman

IT COULD be third time lucky for Singapore Telecommunications in its quest to expand beyond Asia as the company is reportedly putting its weight behind Bharti Airtel’s latest attempt at muscling into Africa.

SingTel’s Indian associate on Monday announced that it was in exclusive talks with Kuwait’s Zain group to buy over its mobile assets in the African continent.

The negotiations, which end on March 25, could result in a US$10.7 billion deal that would give Bharti access to some 42 million mobile subscribers across 15 African markets.

‘SingTel, as a partner of Bharti, is fully supporting us on the deal,’ Bharti chairman Sunil Mittal said in an Economic Times of India report.

When contacted, SingTel did not confirm its involvement in the Bharti-Zain deal.

‘As a strategic investor, we have significant governance and shareholder rights and we are actively involved in key decisions including major investments. We always seek to add value to our associates through both organic and inorganic means,’ a company spokesman said.

Singapore’s largest operator – which owns 32 per cent of Bharti – has repeatedly singled out Africa and the Middle East as the two continents that it would be keen to expand into.

It was presented with two such opportunities – to no avail – in 2008 and last year when Bharti engaged in merger talks with South Africa’s MTN Group. In September last year, the proposed US$24 million cash plus share swap deal between Bharti and MTN was again scuppered due to regulatory hurdles.

This time around, Bharti said in a statement that it is likely to pay Zain US$9 billion based on its estimated net debt of US$1.7 billion at the end of last year. US$700 million of the the payable amount will be paid a year after closing the deal.

Bharti is reportedly in talks with a few banks, including Standard Chartered and Barclays, on funding the purchase.

‘The financial plans will be laid out in totality over the coming days. All I can say is that funding has never been an issue and will never be an issue for Bharti,’ Mr Mittal was quoted as saying.

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