Egyptian businessman Naguib Sawiris (Photo: Reuters)
Naguib Sawiris is in discussions with partners to help finance a bid for Orange Switzerland , the France Telecom mobile-phone unit, he has confirmed to Ahram Online.
The former state-owned monopoly Swisscom still holds around 60 percent of the Swiss market. Sunrise, which is owned by private equity group CVC, has roughly 20 percent, while Orange has only 17 percent after more than a decade in the market.
Orange has only managed to eke out slight growth in clients over the past four years to hit 1.6 million at end 2010, but revenues have declined over the same period.
“I wouldn’t do it alone, we are looking for partners,” Sawiris told Bloomberg.
Sawiris, the founder of Orascom Telecom Holding, said four bidders had been selected to make offers, with final bids due by the end of the year.
French billionaire and Iliad founder, Xavier Niel has already teamed up with Goldman Sachs to bid for the France Telecom unit, which has also caught the eye of private-equity groups including EQT Partners and Apax Partners.
France Telecom is exiting Switzerland as part of a plan to reorient its business toward faster-growing markets in the Middle East and Africa. The Paris-based company this month agreed to buy Congo-China Telecom, the fourth-largest mobile-phone operator in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Stephane Richard, Orange Switzerland CEO, aims to sell the Swiss business by the end of 2011. The former French phone monopoly is under pressure at home due in part to Iliad, which is entering the French mobile market next year with a pledge to drive down prices that are higher than the European average.
Sawiris declined to name the financial funds he’s in discussions with and said he had no plans to sell or swap his stake in Mobinil, his Egyptian joint venture with France Telecom.“It’s completely farfetched,” said Sawiris.
“Mobinil belongs to Orascom with other shareholders. We have not decided to dispose of Mobinil. If I bid, I would do it on a personal basis,” he added
France’s largest phone company will look at any proposal from Sawiris to swap shares in Mobinil for Orange Switzerland shares, Richard said in an interview.
51.03 per cent of Mobinil Communications shares are divided between France Telecom-Orange, which holds 71.25 per cent, while Orascom Telecom holds 28.7 per cent.
France Telecom is also targeting its Austrian and Portuguese units for disposal.
At CLT 2pm Mobinil shares listed on the Egyptian stock exchange had risen by 0.6 per cent.