Exclusive: Hutchison, Vimpelcom resume Italian mobile merger talks - sources

Tue Jun 3, 2014 6:25pm EDT
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By Sophie Sassard and Pamela Barbaglia

LONDON (Reuters) - Hutchison Whampoa 0013.HK has resumed talks with Russian telecoms group Vimpelcom VIP.O over merging their Italian mobile firms, encouraged by Hutchison's 3 getting the go-ahead last week for an acquisition in Ireland, according to several people familiar with the situation.

"The talks are live again," said one of the sources, who asked not to be named.

Vimpelcom has hired Morgan Stanley to advise on the deal, while Goldman Sachs is working with Hutchison, said the sources. Mediobanca is also expected to have a role, said the sources.

Spokespeople for Vimpelcom, Wind, Hutchison, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Mediobanca declined to comment.

The parties have held on-off talks for over six months and came very close to agreeing a deal in December, the sources said. The clearance of Hutchison's O2 Ireland acquisition, together with a partial refinancing of Wind's debt, is now creating a new momentum for the deal to happen, said the sources.

Wind's current debt of 9.5 billion euros ($13 billion) has long been a hurdle to a deal, but the terms of a debt refinancing plan in April specifically allowed for a change of ownership.

Hutchison's 3 Ireland subsidiary finally got approval last week to acquire bigger rival O2 Ireland from Telefonica (TEF.MC: Quote) for $1 billion in cash, after lengthy negotiations with the competition regulators to allay concerns over the reduction in the number of network operators from four to three.

The deal is just the latest move by Hutchison's telecoms subsidiary 3 Group to strengthen its position in Europe, where it operates in six national markets. Eighteen months ago its 3 Austria unit acquired French group Orange's (ORAN.PA: Quote) Austrian subsidiary for $1.7 billion after similarly overcoming objections from regulators.   Continued...

The logo of Hutchison Whampoa Ltd is displayed at one of the company's office towers in Hong Kong August 1, 2013. REUTERS/Bobby Yip