New Delhi: India’s top mobile firm Bharti Airtel and South African cellular flagship MTN are ready to sign a tie-up deal but regulatory issues could stymie a final agreement, reports said Monday.
“The deal is all set, agreed and legally ready to be signed,” the Business Standard newspaper quoted an unnamed source close to negotiations as saying.
But the Business Standard and The Economic Times say a final agreement could be blocked by the issue of whether India would allow the merged company to be listed on both the Indian and South African stock exchanges.
A dual listed company (DLCs) involves two listed companies that have different sets of shareholders but share ownership of a single business operation. South Africa allows dual listing while India does not.
The South African government, which indirectly holds over 21% in MTN, said earlier this month it was unwilling to sacrifice the firm’s “South African character” and raised the possibility of dual listing as a compromise.
Media reports say the two firms have worked out details of the proposed $23-billion cash-and-share swap deal. The merged company would have over 200 million subscribers and $20 billion in annual revenues.
But allowing DLCs would involve substantial changes in India’s foreign exchange and stock market laws and full cabinet approval, the reports said.
A Bharti Airtel spokesman had no comment.
The Economic Times said the issue was expected to be raised at a meeting between prime minister Manmohan Singh and South African president Jacob Zuma on the sidelines of a G-20 summit in the US city of Pittsburgh this week.
The newspaper said Singh was likely to indicate the government’s support for the deal but added it was unclear whether he could give any assurance on changing India’s legislation to allow dual listed companies.
The Economic Times quoted Vincent Magwenya, a spokesman for Zuma, as saying the deal’s future was dependent on whether “all regulatory requirements and other considerations in both countries” could be met.
The 15-year-old MTN is South Africa’s largest telecoms company with 103 million subscribers in 21 countries.
A merger between the two would create the world’s third-largest mobile phone operator by subscribers that would straddle Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Bharti Airtel and MTN say they will engage in exclusive talks on a merger until 30 September.