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Vimpelcom explores sale of African, Asian units

29 Oct 2012

Amsterdam-headquartered, New York-listed international telecoms group Vimpelcom intends to sell several of its businesses in emerging markets across Africa and Asia, as part of a rationalisation of the group’s global business, the Financial Times reports. It is understood that the Russian company has already spoken to potential buyers of its sub-Saharan African units in Burundi (U-Com Burundi) and the Central African Republic (Telecel-RCA); the company is also expected to offload its Zimbabwean business – Telecel Zimbabwe – after resolving outstanding ownership and licensing issues. The three businesses are collectively valued at around USD60 million. According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, Vimpelcom’s units are currently the market leaders in both Burundi (1.305 million subscribers, 60.4% market share) and Central African Republic (428,000, 39.8%), while Telecel Zimbabwe occupies second place in pecking order (2.003 million, 18.7%). According to the FT, interest has largely been confined to established telecoms groups currently lacking a presence in those countries, prompting suggestions that South African-based pan-African operators MTN Group and Vodacom Group are the likely front-runners. In March this year MTN admitted that it was targeting ‘bolt-on’ deals inside its ‘comfort zone’, while May saw Vodacom hint that it was keen to explore any deals in Africa in the USD100 million price range. Another likely suitor is Vietnamese military backed firm Viettel Group, which has revealed plans to ramp up its African activities after the launch of Movitel in Mozambique and the acquisition of a 65% stake in Tanzania’s EGOTEL. This year the company also expressed an interest in acquiring licences in Kenya, Mali and Cameroon.

Meanwhile, in Asia, Vimpelcom is also prepared to offload its Beeline units in both Cambodia and Laos after struggling to compete effectively with the locally-owned operators. The FT indicates that talks in these two countries have taken place with existing players looking to consolidate their position in the market. The move follows Vimpelcom’s April 2012 withdrawal from Vietnam, when it sold its 49% stake in GTel Mobile to GTEL Transmit and Infrastructure Service One Member Company Limited, a related party of Vimpelcom’s Vietnamese partner, Global Telecommunications Corporation.

According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, recent years have seen Vimpelcom seek to establish itself as a major international presence by expanding its footprint across Asia, Africa, Europe and beyond, embarking on what it described as a ‘large and complex’ USD6.5 billion merger with Wind Telecom (formerly Weather Investments), the telecoms holding company owned by Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris in late-2010/early-2011. However, the company has come under fire in some quarters for its lack of cohesive international strategy, and now seeks to streamline some of its more disparate telecoms assets and focus on increasing core earnings. British financial services company Standard Chartered is said to be advising Vimpelcom on the review of its operations.

Burundi, Cambodia, Central African Republic, Laos, Zimbabwe, Sotelco (Beeline), Telecel Zimbabwe, Telecel-RCA (Centrafrique), TPLUS, U-Com Burundi (leo), VEON

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