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By Sophie Sassard and Dinesh Nair
LONDON/DUBAI Feb 4 South Korean telecoms company KT Corp has joined the competition to buy Vivendi's 53 percent stake in Maroc Telecom, lining up banks to advise on a deal potentially worth over $6 billion, two people familiar with the situation said on Monday.
Citigroup, Credit Suisse and Societe Generale will advise KT Corp and finance its potential investment in Morocco's main telecoms operator if it is successful, the sources said.
"With the Koreans now lining up advisory and financing options, this process is getting very competitive," said one of the sources.
"We still expect the Gulf bidders to have an edge but a lot of factors will come into play," he said in a reference to Qatar's Qtel and United Arab Emirates' Etisalat which have made non-binding bids.
The bidders have yet to hear back from Vivendi and a deadline for binding offers has yet to be set, the sources said.
KT Corp has previously looked at businesses in Africa but not yet done a deal, they said.
Meanwhile Vivendi is under pressure from shareholders to bolster its flagging share price and from rating agencies to reduce its debt, which stands at 15.7 billion euros, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Consequently the French media, entertainment and telecoms conglomerate is looking to sell several assets as part of an overhaul aimed at cutting debt and reducing its exposure to the capital-intensive telecoms business.
It is also believed that Vivendi could turn to France Telecom as a possible buyer of the Maroc Telecom stake if none of the existing three bidders met its price expectations and Morocco's requirements, the sources said.
France Telecom would have to dispose of its 40 percent stake in Maroc Telecom's local rival Meditel but Maroc Telecom would give the French group access to the market leader as well as several other African markets.
France Telecom already operates in 21 Middle East and African countries and said last month it wants to expand into Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.
Maroc Telecom, which reported a net profit of 8.1 billion Moroccan dirhams ($981 million) in 2011, has majority stakes in Gabon Telecom, Mauritania's MaurieTel, Burkina Faso's Onatel and Mali's Sotelma. Overall, its operations outside Morocco grew by 39 percent in 2011.
The company is also one of Morocco's main internet service providers through its fully-owned subsidiary Casanet.
Morocco is expected to retain its 30 percent holding in Maroc Telecom and could require foreign bidders to team up with local players in an ownership structure similar to Meditel's, which is controlled by state funds CDG and FinanceCom, one of the sources said.
Moroccan conglomerate ONA, which already owns the country's third telecoms operator Wana along with Kuwait's Zain , could also be interested in Maroc Telecom, he said.
"Vivendi is looking for the best price and there are political implications to working with the Moroccan government in future so the buyer will have to fit into all these factors," the other source said.
"This deal will be a major game changer in Africa. Assuming minority holders may be bought out, you are talking about a very sizeable deal, north of $7 billion," he said.
Vivendi and Citi declined to comment. No one could be reached to comment at KT Corp while no one responded to requests for comment at Credit Suisse and Societe Generale. ($1=8.2599 Moroccan dirhams) ($1=0.7376 euros) (Editing by Greg Mahlich)