EU to clear Liberty Global's $1.4 billion KPN Belgium deal: sources

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - U.S. cable group Liberty Global is set to secure EU approval for its 1.3-billion-euro ($1.4 billion) bid for KPN’s Belgian unit after pledging to divest assets to boost a rival, two people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.

Liberty Global’s Belgian subsidiary Telenet unveiled plans in April last year to buy local mobile network operator Base from Dutch group KPN.

The merged company would be on a par with Orange-controlled Mobistar, but behind market leader Proximus. Backed by U.S. billionaire John Malone, Liberty Global has grown in recent years with a string of acquisitions.

This will be the first telecoms merger cleared by European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager since she scuppered a plan by Teliasonera and Telenor to merge their Danish subsidiaries in September last year.

Antitrust experts, however, said the Liberty Global deal was unlikely to offer any clues as to how she will rule on Hutchison Whampoa’s bid for Telefonica’s British unit, the subject of an EU investigation since last October.

The European Commission will brief national competition authorities on the Liberty/KPN case on Thursday and will give the green light shortly after that, ahead of an official deadline of March 17.

Commission spokesman Ricardo Cardoso and KPN spokesman Stijn Wesselink declined to comment. Liberty Global said it was in a constructive dialogue with the Commission and was confident of obtaining clearance.

Telenet has agreed to sell to Belgian rival Medialaan all the customers from Base’s JIM Mobile brand and its 50 percent stake in another brand Mobile Viking. The objective is to help Medialaan become a full fledged mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) operating on Base’s network.

Additional reporting by Toby Stirling in Amsterdam; Editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Mark Potter