MTN turns its attention to Reliance

27 May 2008

Having had a proposed tie-up with one Indian cellco rejected at the weekend, South Africa-based mobile group MTN has lost no time in finding a replacement. On Saturday Bharti Airtel ended merger negotiations with MTN, but the African firm is now discussing a merger with another Indian telco, Reliance Communications. Reliance’s chairman and largest shareholder, Anil Ambani, has announced that his company has begun ‘exclusive negotiations’ with MTN to discuss the ‘potential combination of their businesses’. Ambani is ready to accept MTN shares in return for his 66% stake in Reliance, in a deal which would make him the biggest shareholder in the enlarged MTN Group. The African group is also planning a tender offer to buy out Reliance’s minority investors. The combined MTN/Reliance would serve approximately 115 million customers in 23 countries across Africa, Asia and the Middle East and would be valued at around USD70 billion, making it one of the largest emerging markets telecoms groups. MTN’s talks with Bharti ended when the Indian firm refused to accept MTN’s proposals for the structure of the enlarged group; MTN wanted Bharti to become a unit within MTN, while Bharti was looking for more control over the combined company.