Egyptian businessman Naguib Sawiris is in discussions with partners to help finance a bid for Orange Switzerland, the France Telecom mobile-phone unit.
“I wouldn’t do it alone, we are looking for partners,” said Sawiris.
Sawiris, the founder of Orascom Telecom Holdings, said four bidders have been selected to make offers, with final bids due by the end of the year.
The asset has also attracted interest from Iliad’s founder Xavier Niel, who teamed up with Goldman Sachs’ private-equity unit in a bid, and from private-equity firms including Apax Partners and EQT Partners, people familiar with the matter have said.
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. He 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.”
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.
France Telecom is also targeting its Austrian and Portuguese units for disposal.
Hutchison Whampoa, the Hong Kong-based company controlled by billionaire Li Ka-shing, is in talks that may lead to the takeover of Orange Austria, co-owned by France Telecom SA and private-equity firm Mid Europa Partners, people familiar with the process said this week.
Sawiris, 57, may also be interested in telecommunications assets in Austria, according to an investor in Telekom Austria, the country’s biggest phone company.
Telekom Austria bid
Ronny Pecik, who owns a fund that has bought options to acquire 5.4% of Vienna-based Telekom Austria, said in an interview that he had teamed up with Sawiris to buy shares in the phone operator.
Sawiris declined to comment and has subsequently stepped back from day-to-day management of his businesses.
In April 2011, shareholders approved a $6.5 billion deal to merge his Rome-based Wind Telecomunicazioni, including most of his Orascom Telecom assets, with Russia’s VimpelCom to create the world’s sixth-largest mobile phone company, which now has 193 million subscribers.
Telekom Austria has a market value of about 3.8 billion euros. The stock dropped 1.6% to 8.48 in Vienna. France Telecom slipped 1.3 percent to 13.41 on the Paris exchange, valuing the company at 35.5 billion.