Jumat, 16 Mei 2008

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Indias top mobile phone Bharti Airtel denied on Tuesday a media report that it had made a 19-billion-dollar offer to take control of South Africas flagship MTN telecom operator.

Bharti Airtel, which said Monday it had begun exploratory talks with MTN on a possible takeover, issued a statement saying it wanted to "clarify it has not made any offer to acquire the whole or part of MTN."

The statement came after Britains Financial Times quoted unnamed sources as saying Bharti had made a 19-billion-dollar bid for 51 percent of MTN.

Such a bid would trump the 13.7-billion-dollar purchase by Indias Tata Steel of Anglo-Dutch steelmaker Corus in 2007, and would be the subcontinents biggest-ever foreign takeover.

"Details of any transaction will be released promptly, if and when, the parties reach agreement," added Bharti Airtel, which is more than 30 percent owned by Singapores SingTelNet.

However, a Bharti Airtel official who did not wish to be named, told AFP that "we are still talking," declining to elaborate.

Bharti Airtels statement came after its shares tumbled 5.29 percent or 47.25 rupees to 846.60 rupees on the Mumbai stock exchange amid investor concern that a takeover of MTN could strain the Indian companys finances.

However, Bharti Airtel, led by billionaire founder-chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal, said late last month the company would have no trouble raising funds for a potential bid despite the global credit crunch, thanks to its low debt.

Bharti has been keen to expand the companys "global footprint" beyond its domestic market.

MTN has 68.2 million subscribers in more than 20 countries.

Bharti, which controls 23.8 percent of the Indian phone market, has 64 million clients, 62 million of them mobile subscribers, and a market capitalisation of around 42 billion dollars.

MTNs shares have surged to record highs on the possibility Bharti would make an offer.

South African media reports have said MTNs board would be reluctant to sell off 100 percent of one of that countrys top companies to a foreign buyer but could consider other ownership structures.

The bid talk comes on the heels of a series of high-profile takeovers of foreign companies by cash-flush corporate India.

Bharti might not have a clear run for MTN as rival Reliance Communications is reportedly also considering entering the fray. China Mobile and leading global mobile player Vodafone have also been mentioned as contenders.


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