Vimpelcom sells Africa assets, eyes Pakistan telco Warid: sources

DUBAI Mon Jul 29, 2013 9:31am EDT

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DUBAI (Reuters) - Telecoms group Vimpelcom VIP.N has agreed to sell two of its sub-Saharan assets for about $100 million and is bidding for Pakistan's mobile operator Warid Telecom, two banking sources familiar with the matter said.

New-York listed Vimpelcom, which has operations in Russia, Italy and various emerging markets, put some African assets on the block last year to focus on larger markets and cut its debt.

It has now reached agreement to sell Telecel Global, which includes Vimpelcom's Burundi and Central African Republic units, to Neil Telecom, an emerging market-focused telecoms venture run by African investor Laurent Foucher, the sources said.

The deal is subject to closing conditions and regulatory approvals for Neil Telecom, the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity as the matter is not public.

A spokesman for Vimpelcom referred Reuters to its last financial results when the company said it had signed a share purchase agreement to sell its stake in Telecel Global but declined to comment further on the buyer or price.

The spokesman also declined to comment on Pakistan bid plans.

Foucher, who is the chief executive of Neil Telecom, has several business interests in Africa, including Neil Petroleum, an oil and gas investment firm, one of the sources said.

The telecom units came to Vimpelcom when it bought a 51 percent stake in Egypt-based Orascom Telecom and all of Italy's Wind in 2011 for $6 billion. The sale plan does not include Vimpelcom's assets in Zimbabwe, which the company is negotiating separately, one of the sources said.

"That sale will be to a separate set of buyers and discussions on that are currently ongoing," the source said.

Vimpelcom has hired Citigroup Inc (C.N) to advise on the potential acquisition of Warid Telecom, put up for sale by its Abu Dhabi owners, and the bidding process has already started, the two sources said.

Earlier in the day, UAE telecommunications firm Etisalat ETEL.AD said its affiliate Pakistan Telecommunication Co Ltd (PTCL) (PTCA.KA) had expressed interest in Warid. Reuters reported earlier this week that Etisalat had hired Goldman Sachs (GS.N) as a financial adviser for the planned acquisition.

A full sale of Warid, owned by conglomerate The Abu Dhabi Group, could raise up to $1 billion, according to sources.

Pakistan's mobile telecommunications sector has five operators and is ripe for consolidation after a period when a troubled economy, increasingly high levels of market penetration and stiff competition has forced companies' margins lower.

Vimpelcom unit Orascom Telecom, which operates under the name Mobilink in the country, is the sector leader. Sources told Reuters in June that a sale is also likely to draw interest from China Mobile (0941.HK) which has operations in Pakistan.

Altimo, part of Russian tycoon Mikhail Fridman's Alfa Group, has a 48 percent voting stake in Vimpelcom, while Norway's Telenor (TEL.OL) is the second-biggest shareholder with 43 percent.

(Additional reporting by Maria Kiselyova in Moscow; Editing by David Cowell)

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