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Vodafone open to Indian partners

The firm is open to partnering Indian shareholders in its bid to take over Hutch Essar, reports Monica Gupta.

india Updated: Jan 11, 2007 04:07 IST

Vodafone Group plc, the world’s largest telecom company by revenues, is not averse to partnering Indian shareholders in Mumbai-based cellular firm Hutchison Essar in its bid to take over the fourth largest cellular firm in the country.

Mumbai based oil-to-steel conglomerate Essar controlled by the Ruias family, owns 33 per cent in Hutchison Essar, and Delhi-based industrialist Analjit Singh and the target’s chief executive Asim Ghosh hold minority stakes in the cellular company, valued at $17 billion by investment bankers.

“Essar is our natural partner. We are also talking to Analjit Singh and other parties,” Vodafone CEO Arun Sarin told reporters. Sarin is in Delhi for meetings leading up to a potential takeover of Hutchison Whampoa’s stake in the Indian cellular company. He met Commerce Minister Kamal Nath and Finance Minister P Chidambaram earlier on Wednesday.

Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa wants to sell its controlling interest in Hutchison Essar and has started talking with interested suitors like Reliance Communications.

Vodafone representatives have started a due diligence exercise on the target. Hindujas, the London-based non-resident Indian business family, have also expressed interest in the sale.

Completion of the due diligence is a “couple of weeks away”, Sarin said. “India is a growing market, it will help us to expand our operations. India fits in very well in our plans.”

On the option of selling the 10 per cent stake it holds in Bharti Airtel, India’s biggest cellular operator, Sarin said there was “no reason to start talks on disengagement at this stage”.