UK telecom giant Vodafone on Wednesday ruled out any higher offer for buying out Essar's 33 per cent stake in mobile venture Hutch-Essar, but sent flowers to the Indian conglomerate hoping for a smooth ride going ahead.
"Vodafone will not increase its offer for Essar. It will be same as that for Hutchison Telecom's stake," company's CEO Arun Sarin said in New Delhi, adding that he would prefer the Indian conglomerate to stay put in the joint venture.
"Today is Valentine's Day, we are sending roses to Ruias and will visit them. How else do you think we can be more nice to them... We have a true desire to partner them," he said.
In the same breath, Sarin said Vodafone firmly believes that Essar, which holds 33 per cent in the JV, does not have a Right of First Refusal. "It is our and our lawyers opinion."
On keeping Essar in the dark about the infrastructure sharing MoU with Bharti Airtel, Sarin justified, saying: "We were working on a real time basis. Essar also made an offer when we made an offer (for buying out Hutchison's 67 per cent stake) and since we were involved in disengagement talks with Bharti, we also signed this MoU."
"It (MoU with Bharti) would translate into an actual agreement only after we close the deal with Hutch, which may take about two months... Essar would be consulted on decision making as a 33 per cent partner should be," the India-born CEO of Vodafone said.
Asked if Essar was putting pressure for getting a premium and would Vodafone pay more, he reiterated that the offer would be the same as that made to HTIL.
At present, mobile leader Bharti Airtel has a subscriber base of over 33 million against Hutch-Essar's about 24.4 million customers.
Though Vodafone will continue to hold 4.4 per cent indirect stake in Bharti Airtel, with which it would also be sharing network, he said the "relationship would be as close as that of a competitor."
Bharti Group Chairman Sunil Mittal had said on Tuesday in Barcelona that Bharti Airtel was determined to retain its numero uno position, while stating that Hutch can be number two.
Mittal had also said he was aiming to increase Bharti Airtel's subscriber base to 100 million in India.
Sarin said Vodafone's actual stake acquisition in Hutch-Essar would be 52 per cent, as HTIL's 67 per cent stake also includes 15 per cent stake held by minority shareholders, who have agreed to continue as partners of the UK company.
He said the British company would bring in funds for all the incremental investments, while ruling out Initial Public Offer to raise funds from the market. "We have enough funds."
Sarin said he expects to complete the transaction in about two months, including obtaining all regulatory approvals.