The billionaire French entrepreneur Xavier Niel has emerged as one of 12 firms that will participate in the second round of bids for France Telecom's (FT) Swiss subsidiary, Orange Switzerland.
Niel, the founder of French telecom operator Iliad and Free Mobile, is making the bid independently of his existing telecom holdings, but would offer no comment when questioned by the French Newspaper Les Echos about his intentions. However, a Bloomberg report, which cited an unnamed source, says that Niel is making a 50:50 bid for the Swiss operator in a partnership with the private equity division of Goldman Sachs.
Commenting on the progress of the bidding, FT CEO Stephane Richard told Reuters that increasingly stretched financial conditions caused by the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis will not lower the price it gets for the sale of Orange Switzerland. Asked about the likelihood of receiving a bid close to the target price, Richard said: "I don't see any signs to the contrary."
However, this is despite growing concerns from industry insiders close to the deal that have started to question whether the sale can get done this year at all. One reason given for all 12 bidders going through to the second phase--the first being a round of non-binding bids--is that FT wants to increase the competition and avoid the formation of consortium among big firms.
The named bidders include Apax, Providence, EQT, Bain Capital, Liberty Global, Doughty Hanson, Carlyle, Altice and shareholders of Numericable. The former CEO of Orascom, Naguib Sawiris, is also involved.
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