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Ambani feud complicates MTN deal
|17 июня 2008|
A feud in India's richest family has opened a new front, with Reliance Industries Ltd., run by Mukesh Ambani, seeking to interfere in a huge deal being negotiated by Mr. Ambani's younger brother, Anil.
Anil Ambani, chairman of Reliance Communications Ltd, is in exclusive negotiations to combine with MTN Group Ltd. of South Africa. Together, the cellphone companies would create a giant with operations in Africa, the Middle East and India. Any deal between the two is likely to be a blockbuster: MTN has a market value about $32 billion, while Reliance Communications is valued at around $26 billion.
But Thursday, Reliance Industries wrote to MTN claiming it had the first right of refusal over Reliance Communications in the event of a sale. Reliance Industries and Reliance Communications both were part of the Reliance group of companies run by the two men's father. After he died in 2002, the sons split the empire between them.
"Last night, in a mala fide effort to disrupt the talks, Reliance Industries Ltd., part of the Mukesh Ambani group, has sent a communication to MTN Group, making a false claim of an alleged right of first refusal to buy the controlling stake in Reliance Communications Ltd.," Reliance Communications said in a statement Friday.
A person close to Anil Ambani said there was concern that Reliance Industries' move could disrupt the deal, although the probability of that was low. This person said it was likely that a compromise could be reached, possibly with an asset trade between the two Reliance companies.
A Reliance Communications spokesman said there was "no concern at all" for the deal and "no compromise at all" was planned. "There is no question of any asset trade," he said.
The dispute centers on an agreement signed only by Reliance Industries officials, while Reliance Industries was in still control of Reliance Communications, according to Reliance Communications. The company says the Bombay High Court has held that agreement to be unfair and unjust.
A Reliance Industries spokesman said that the company was acting "in good faith" and that companies run by Anil had never questioned the validity of the agreement. He declined to comment further.
Meanwhile, negotiations are progressing. Most recently there were four days of meetings in London, two of which were attended by Anil Ambani and Phuthuma Nhleko, MTN's president and chief executive, according to a person close to the talks.
Due diligence, the process of studying companies in depth, is expected to be wrapped up in about a week. "As of now, things are looking good to try and close the deal within the exclusivity period," which expires July 8, the person said.
"We are aware that something is going on between the two brothers," an MTN spokeswoman said Friday, adding that at this stage it has little to do with the Johannesburg-based mobile carrier. She said MTN isn't prepared to speculate on the veracity of Reliance Industries' and Reliance Communications' respective positions.
The interference in the deal by Reliance Industries is the latest salvo in a long-running spat between the two brothers. Having worked well together to build up the family business when their father, Dhirubhai Ambani was alive, the two brother's differing personalities, and Mukesh's position as chief custodian of the group, led to animosity. Mukesh, 51 years old, eventually relinquished control of close to 30% of the group, which Anil, 49, spun into his own group.
Reliance Communications is the flagship of Anil's interests, collected under the umbrella of Reliance ADA Group. The group includes finance company Reliance Capital Ltd. and power company Reliance Infrastructure Ltd. Now a key motivating factor for Anil Ambani is to get bigger in business than his brother, the person close to Anil Ambani said.
Источник: Total Telecom