April 10, 2013 / 6:15 PM / 5 years ago

MTN could spend up to $8 billion on acquisition: CEO

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - MTN Group (MTNJ.J), Africa’s largest listed firm, could spend up to $8 billion on an acquisition and is looking for targets on the continent, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, its chief executive said on Wednesday.

A customer leaves an MTN shop in Johannesburg April 10, 2012. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

The South African mobile operator is also one of around 15 telecom providers to make it to a second stage of bidding for an operating license in Myanmar, Sifiso Dabengwa also told the Reuters Africa Investment Summit.

“Growth through M&A is still an important part of our strategy,” he said.

“Anything between $4 and $8 billion is something that we could look at.”

Johannesburg-based MTN, which has a market value of $34 billion, has operations in 22 countries across Africa and the Middle East.

The company is now looking to Southeast Asia, and was one of 90 operators to initially express interest in a license in Myanmar, which is seen as having a high potential for growth.

From the remaining roughly 15 candidates, only around four will be short-listed and eventually two will be awarded the licenses.

Dabengwa said he would also be interested in acquiring a north African operator, to help diversify earnings.

MTN expects to repatriate some 1.2 billion rand ($135 million) of its funds tied up in Iran this year, Dabengwa said.

    The company has been in talks with the Iranian central bank and U.S. authorities on sending back its dividends without violating sanctions.

    Dabengwa, however, said MTN would exit its Iran operation if there was any clear indication the U.S. government would impose sanctions on the business.

    MTN is facing a $4.2 billion lawsuit in a U.S. court over a rival Turkcell’s (TCELL.IS) allegation that it used corrupt practices to win the Iranian operating license.

    An external committee appointed by MTN has, however, found the allegations to be false and Dabengwa said the company’s lawyers were confident the Washington court would throw out the case because it did not fall under its jurisdiction.

    (Follow Reuters Summits on Twitter @Reuters_Summits)

    Editing by David Dolan

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