Vodafone may have to sell $1 billion Bharti stake under India licence rules

NEW DELHI Fri Aug 2, 2013 12:35pm EDT

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Vodafone Group Plc (VOD.L) may be forced to sell its 4.4 percent stake in India's top telecom services provider Bharti Airtel Ltd (BRTI.NS) - worth about $1 billion - after rules published on Friday outlawed crossholdings in rival telecom companies.

Under the rules, no carrier can own a direct or indirect equity stake in another operating in the same of any of India's 22 telecom service areas. Bharti and Vodafone provide services in all of them.

The telecoms ministry's new licensing rules also say that no stakeholder other than the government, banks and financial institutions, which owns 10 percent or more in a carrier will be allowed to own a stake in any other carrier.

Companies must comply with the rules within a year from the date of grant of new licenses, the ministry said. Applications for the licenses may take months to process.

Vodafone, which owns a majority stake in Vodafone India - India's No. 2 phone carrier, has owned its Bharti stake for years. At Bharti's stock price of about 345 rupees, the stake is worth roughly $1 billion.

Bharti declined to comment and Vodafone did not reply to an email seeking comment.

(Reporting by Devidutta Tripathy; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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