Orange refuted speculation that a deal to help it secure approval for a potential acquisition of rival Bouygues Telecom was imminent, and said talks were still ongoing.
In a statement emailed to FierceWireless:Europe, a spokesperson for the France-based operator said: "Following rumours in the press, Orange denies that an agreement has been reached regarding the distribution and valuation of assets owned by Bouygues Telecom. Discussions are on-going between the parties involved."
French weekly le Journal du Dimanche reported on Sunday that Orange engaged in intense talks with Free Mobile and Numericable-SFR over the weekend with a view to selling them parts of Bouygues Telecom's assets to win antitrust approval of the deal.
Citing unnamed sources, the paper suggested that talks with Free had been "extremely tense" because the Iliad-owned operator had baulked at the amount demanded by Orange. The sources told the paper that all parties had then come closer to an accord towards the end of last week and suggested a deal could be presented as early as Tuesday this week when Orange presents full-year earnings figures.
Nevertheless, Orange is still clearly sticking to its stance that an announcement of a deal is not yet forthcoming.
Orange Group CEO Stephane Richard has previously said that the talks should conclude by early March at the latest, and reiterated his belief that the chances of securing a deal were 50-50. Reports have said that the transaction could be valued at €10 billion ($11.2 billion).
Orange and Bouygues Group confirmed in January that they were in preliminary discussions over a possible merger between Orange and Bouygues Telecom.
A successful outcome the talks would further enhance Orange's position on its domestic market and would also reduce the number of mobile players from four to three.
Bouygues Telecom has been consistently regarded as the clear target in any consolidation of the French market. Only in June last year, the company's owners rejected a €10 billion takeover offer from Altice and continued to insist that higher sales and cost savings would help boost profitability in the longer term.
- see this le Journal du Dimanche article (in French)
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