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Bharti wins $11bn bid for African unit

INDIAN mobile phone company Bharti Airtel has had its $10.7bn (£6.8bn) bid for the bulk of the African business of Kuwaiti telecoms company Zain accepted, according to sources close to the deal.

Bharti, led by chief executive Manoj Kohli, will now enter exclusive talks with Zain to work out the details of the deal, under which Bharti would take over Zain’s African operations apart from Morocco and Sudan.

Zain has 71.8m subscribers in the Middle East and Africa, of which about 42m are in Africa, excluding Morocco and Sudan.

Kuwait’s sovereign wealth fund, the Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA), owns a around quarter of Zain and the deal is expected to require the approval of the Kuwaiti government.

It is believed Bharti will pay $10bn to Zain by the middle of April and another $700m before the end of the year in one of the biggest deals involving nations in the Middle East.

The Kuwait stock exchange halted trading in Zain shares pending a decision on a bid for its African assets.

“Zain ... received an offer [for selling] Zain Africa, except for Sudan and Morocco,” the firm said in a statement on the Kuwait bourse website, without identifying the bidder.

Zain, the third-largest telecoms operator in the Arab world, in October halted talks to sell the African assets to appease potential buyers of a 46 per cent stake in the parent company, Zain Group.

A consortium of Asian investors has tried to buy a stake from Kuwaiti family conglomerate Kharafi for two dinars per share, or about $13.7bn.

Zain is believed to have been trying to sell its African assets for about seven months and they have attracted interest from firms including Vivendi and China Mobile, but Bharti is thought to have made the best offer.

Bharti, with about 125m customers, has tried three times to expand beyond its competitive domestic mobile market.