Slim in talks for big chunk of Tel Austria: sources

LONDON/VIENNA Thu Jun 14, 2012 11:02am EDT

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LONDON/VIENNA (Reuters) - Telekom Austria AG (TELA.VI) shareholder Ronny Pecik is in advanced talks to sell his 21 percent stake to Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim, who is seeking to expand his telecom empire into Europe, according to people familiar with the matter.

If the talks are fruitful, it would be a big step in Slim's effort to expand the footprint of his company America Movil (AMXL.MX) in Europe. Slim already owns 4.1 percent of Telekom Austria.

The Mexican telecom operator, which is now present in a roughly a dozen Latin American countries, has also mounted a raid on Dutch telecoms operator KPN (KPN.AS) via a tender offer for 28 percent of its shares.

Pecik declined to comment on Thursday.

A spokesman for America Movil declined to comment.

Telekom Austria said in January that Pecik, via an investment fund called RPR, had built a stake above 20 percent in the group. Pecik's partner in the investment is Egyptian entrepreneur Naguib Sawiris, who built his fortune in the telecom business and is now a liberal politician.

At a shareholder meeting of Telekom Austria on May 23, Pecik was elected to a board seat and said he was a long-term shareholder, seeking to dismiss concerns that he and his partners would aim for a quick profit by flipping the stake.

Pecik rose to prominence by building stakes with partners in companies such as Oerlikon, Sulzer, Saurer, Ascom and VA Tech before selling on at a profit.

Telekom Austria operates in Austria, Belarus, Bulgaria, Croatia, Liechtenstein, Macedonia, Serbia, and Slovenia. Tough conditions in Europe and fierce competition pushed its core earnings down nearly 9 percent in the first quarter but the company stuck to its 2012 outlook.

Its shares are down 13.5 percent this year, underperforming an 8.2 percent decline in the European telecom index .SXKP. Telekom Austria has a market capitalization of 3.5 billion euros.

The Austrian state remains the largest shareholder with a 28.4 percent stake held via holding company OeIAG.

Pecik had earlier described Telekom Austria as an undervalued pearl of industry despite a wave of corruption scandals - which erupted after he started building his stake - that has cost the group millions and tarnished its image. As an ex-state owned monopoly the group is also seen as overstaffed and having potential for cost cuts.

Sawiris, however, said in an interview with Bloomberg TV on May 24 that he and Pecik were having difficulty convincing the company and its state shareholder that their strategy to cut costs to boost profits was the right one.

"If the government is not going to allow us to manage the company the way we want then it becomes unattractive for us," Sawiris said at the time. "I am an industrialist. I didn't do this deal to go in and buy and sell shares."

(Reporting by Michael Shields and Cyntia Barrera; Writing by Leila Abboud; Editing by David Holmes and Jon Loades-Carter)

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