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Hopes still alive for Bharti-MTN deal
September, 30th 2009

The Bharti-MTN talks entered the last round as the final decision from the South African goverment is expected on Wednesday, the last day of the exclusivity period between the two companies. A source close to the finance ministry said the Indian government is waiting for its South African counterpart to revert with a new deal structure that will comply with Indian laws.

The finance ministry is likely to accommodate the deal if it is not in direct violation of Indias policy on dual-listed companies, which in its current avatar may need changes in the capital account convertibility regime. We are hopeful the deal will go through, but dont have a real idea of the conditions the SA government may impose in the new deal structure. They have indicated a decision on September 30, a source close the Bharti Group said.

From available indications, a decision on the deal is likely on Wednesday. But SA government officials are keeping the Bharti top brass guessing on what the last-minute changes in the deal structure are likely to be. I cant say anything at this point. We are all waiting for the final word from Johanesburg, Sunil Mittal told ET NOW outside the Bharti office on Tuesday evening.

It is widely believed that the South African government is looking at an executive order to accommodate the deal structure. We are awaiting the final deal structure after which we will explore ways to fit it in with the policy regime here, an Indian finance ministry official said. The visiting delegation discussed a structure where Bharti would be listed in India and MTN in South Africa and the possibility of a common holding trust, the official added.

The official word from the Indian government has also kept hopes alive for Sunil Mittals audacious cross-border merger thats likely to create a $23-billion giant with operations in 24 coutnries. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said that he and the Prime Minister had a positive approach on the deal and that the government was working on it.

Both me and PM have a positive outlook on the deal," he said on the sidelines of a book release function in New Delhi. In a separate briefing, finance secretary Ashok Chawla said, "There is no public policy in India regarding dual listing. Our officials and looking into the regualtory aspects of dual listing. But neither of the two companies has as yet formally approached the ministry."

Offcial communication from South Africa also echoed the same sentiments. President Zumas office in a communication to ET Now on Tuesday said that the South African government was interested in pursuing a mutually beneficial commercial relationship with India. This interest is in line with our foreign policy to strengthen South-South relations, President Zumas spokesperson added.

The Bharti-MTN transaction is largely in line with the structure unveiled in May. The deals contours involve a complex structure in which both firms would pay cash and equity for stakes in each other, the end result of which will see Bharti Airtel get a 49% stake in MTN and the South African telco and its shareholders getting a 36% economic interest in Bharti. In the next leg, both telcos say they will look at a full-fledged merger.

At the same time, President Zumas office also emphasised that any commercial transaction that involves a South African business entity must satisfy the laws of the land in terms of regulatory requirements.

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