Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Bharti Airtel says not working on sweetening deal

The Chairman of India's Bharti Airtel (BHARTIARTL.BO : 801.55 -5.9) said on Monday the group was not working on sweetening the deal for Africa's biggest mobile operator MTN Group, but did not rule it out.

Sunil Mittal also told Reuters the group had not yet held talks with the Indian or South African governments about the proposed merger.

"I'm sure that when we approach them (the governments) in the appropriate time we will get a very good response," Bharti Airtel's Chairman Mittal said on the sidelines of the Global Leadership Summit in London.

MTN and Bharti, India's leading cellular firm, have revived talks aimed at creating the world's third-biggest wireless group with more than 200 million subscribers and combined revenue of $20 billion.

The chief executive of MTN's biggest shareholder, state pension fund Public Investment Corporation (PIC) told Reuters earlier in June the fund supported the talks but said there was "room for improvement" on the price.

Asked if they were considering sweetening the deal, Mittal said that is "something that is not engaging our minds at the moment. We're working towards our closure and a lot of work has to go on around that.

"I won't say yes or no."

Asked whether he felt the dealings with regulators would be smooth, Mittal said Bharti Airtel would "meet all the conditions that will be required to be met."

Both companies have agreed to hold exclusive negotiations until July 31 but Mittal said he had "no visibility" on whether the deadline could be extended.

MTN said earlier on Monday that Finance Director Rob Nisbet had resigned, prompting concerns he may not have been in favour of the proposed tie-up.

Mittal told Reuters he had not been aware of the situation with Nisbet until he saw it reported, but said these changes within a company will happen.

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