Bharti inks agreement for Zain’s African subsidiaries

31 Mar 2010

Just a few days after the revelation that the board of Kuwait-based telecoms group Zain had approved an offer for its African assets, India’s Bharti Airtel has announced that it has entered into a legally binding agreement for the acquisition. Under the terms of the agreement Bharti will make a cash payment of USD9 billion, of which USD8.3 billion will be paid on closing of the deal; the remaining USD0.7 billion will be due one year after completion. Further, Bharti will assume USD1.7 billion of consolidated debt obligations as part of the deal, making it the second largest ever overseas acquisition by an Indian company, only topped by the USD12.9 billion Tata Steel paid for UK-based Corus Group in 2007.

Marking Bharti’s third attempt to enter the African markets, after two failed attempts to purchase South Africa’s MTN Group, when the deal closes the Indian company’s subscriber base will increase by approximately 42 million, spread across 15 countries: Burkina Faso, Chad, Congo Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Niger, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. Zain’s Moroccan and Sudanese subsidiaries are, however, not included as part of the deal. Indian billionaire and Bharti’s chairman and founder, Sunil Mittal, said of the development: ‘With this acquisition, Bharti Airtel will be transformed into a truly global telecom company.’

Meanwhile, it was reported yesterday by Reuters that the government of Gabon may oppose the sale of Zain’s Gabonese unit to Bharti. The state reportedly issued a statement saying that it disapproves of the transaction and ‘reserves the right to take all necessary measures’, adding that Zain Gabon has ‘not complied’ with local telecoms regulations.