Iliad's Xavier Niel snaps up Orange Switzerland for €2.3B

NJJ Capital, the private holding company of France-based Iliad founder Xavier Niel, agreed to buy Orange Switzerland from funds advised by Apax Partners for CHF2.8 billion (€2.3 billion/$2.9 billion).

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Iliad founder Xavier Niel

The sale marks a further success in Niel's efforts to build up a telecoms group in Europe following the launch of Iliad and Free Mobile in France, and the acquisition of Monaco Telecom in April this year. The move will also no doubt come as a welcome development following the failure of Niel's recent efforts to buy Bouygues Telecom in France and T-Mobile US.

According to a statement from Apax, Orange Switzerland has carried out a number of initiatives since it was acquired from the Orange group for €1.6 billion ($1.9 billion) in 2012 that have transformed the company into a more efficient and future-proof business while driving EBITDA growth.

"Of note, over the last three years, it has successfully modernised its IT systems, launched its 4G commercial services, now reaching over 90 per cent of the Swiss population, and expanded its store network with 8 store openings in 2014, including a flagship store in Zurich," Apax said.

Niel has been assessing deals in Europe over recent years and Orange Switzerland had long been understood to be one of the companies in his sights. Others include Bouygues Telecom--although Niel recently ruled out a further consolidation of the French mobile market for the time being--as well as Orange-owned Belgian unit Mobistar, and KPN's BASE Belgium.

"Since 2012, when Orange Switzerland was acquired by the Apax Funds, my team and I have followed very closely all the developments at the company. We have witnessed the successful transformation at Orange Switzerland under Apax's leadership," Niel commented.

Orange Switzerland, which reported 2.1 million customers after the first nine months of 2014, is the third and smallest mobile operator on the market after Swisscom and Sunrise. Previous efforts to merge Orange Switzerland with Sunrise failed in 2010 due to regulatory resistance. Apax is also understood to have explored a merger between the two companies. It remains to be seen whether or not Niel will make a further attempt.

For more:
- see this Apax release

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