TeliaSonera begins Eurasian exit with $1B Nepal deal

TeliaSonera agreed to sell its 60.4 per cent stake in Nepalese operator Ncell to Asian telecoms group Axiata for $1.03 billion (€948 million), marking the first step in the operator's strategy to gradually divest its Eurasian operations.

The Sweden-based operator said it would receive a further $48 million as a result of dissolving its economic interests in the 20 per cent stake held by local investor Niraj Shrestha.

TeliaSonera explained that under Nepalese law, 20 per cent of the ownership in a company is required to be held locally by a Nepalese citizen. It said all arrangements between TeliaSonera and Shrestha that were entered into in 2012 will lapse in conjunction with closing.

Shrestha will in turn sell his locally held shares to Bhavana Singh Shrestha, who is Axiata's chosen local partner. The overall transaction is expected to close in the first half of 2016.

Johan Dennelind, TeliaSonera president and CEO, said the sale of Ncell was a "first step and proof point in this reshaping of TeliaSonera", and welcomed Axiata as the new owner of the Nepalese operator.

"That gives me comfort that our dedicated employees are in good hands when taking Ncell to the next level," Dennelind said.

Axiata has more than 260 million customers and 25,000 employees. It already has telecoms operations in Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Singapore and Pakistan.

TeliaSonera announced in September its ambition to reduce its presence in seven Eurasian markets and focus on operations in the Nordics and Baltics, with the goal of creating a "new TeliaSonera". As well as Nepal, it currently has investments in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Tajikistan.

At the time, Dennelind said the divestment process would be a complex task that would take time to complete.

"We are conducting this process market by market as each country and operation has its unique situation, but the ambition is to eventually leave the entire region," he said.

In November, Turkcell also said it had made a non-binding offer for TeliaSonera's 58.55 per cent stake in Fintur Holdings, which co-owns the stakes in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Moldova. Turkcell owns 41.45 per cent of Fintur.

For more:
- see the TeliaSonera release

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