Malaysia: Axiata unit close to acquiring Veon Towers in $1b deal

A security officer guards in front of the Axiata headquarters buiding in Kuala Lumpur May 28, 2014. REUTERS/Samsul Said

Axiata Group Bhd., the biggest Malaysian mobile operator, is nearing a deal to acquire Veon Ltd.’s Pakistan wireless towers for around $1 billion, people familiar with the matter said.

Edotco Group Sdn., Axiata’s infrastructure arm, plans to announce an agreement as soon as this week, according to the people. The purchase of about 13,000 towers will make Edotco the biggest independent telecommunications tower operator in the South Asian nation, one of the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private.

Axiata has been pursuing overseas deals as it seeks to reduce reliance on a home market where it’s losing subscribers and average customer revenue is flattening. Any deal will add to the $3.1 billion of acquisitions announced in Pakistan over the past 12 months, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The acquisition would help Kuala Lumpur-based Axiata meet a goal of expanding its overseas infrastructure operations ahead of an eventual listing of the business. Axiata wants to increase its phone towers in Southeast Asia and South Asia to 26,000 from 16,000 within three years, Chief Executive Officer Jamaludin Ibrahim said in an interview last year.

Shares of Axiata have fallen 12 percent over the past year, giving the company a market value of $10.2 billion. A representative for Edotco said he couldn’t immediately comment, while a spokesman for Veon’s Pakistan unit declined to comment.

Last year, Axiata bought control of Nepalese operator Ncell Pvt for $1.4 billion. The company also has interests in Indonesia, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Axiata said earlier this month that Edotco had completed the $89 million purchase of Tanzanite Tower Pvt, which owns about 700 phone towers in Pakistan.

Veon, the wireless carrier formerly known as VimpelCom Ltd., said earlier this month it was in advanced talks to sell its Pakistan tower business to an unnamed buyer. A deal could come as soon as the second half of this year, Veon Chief Executive Officer Jean-Yves Charlier said in an August interview.

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