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Fight for Hutchinson Essar mobile intensifies

Over 20 million Indian subscribers up for grabs

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What looked like a two-way battle between Vodafone and Reliance for Indian operator Hutchison Essar is shaping up as a triangular contest.

Indian conglomerate Essar, which co-owns the operator with Hutchison, is looking to raise enough money to buy out its partner, and is emphasising its first-refusal position.

Vodafone was expected to offer $13bn for Hutchinson’s share of the company, though figures as high as $18bn have been reported. The same reports are saying that Essar has suggested around $11bn, as an indication of what it thinks the company is worth.

Neither Vodafone nor Essar has made a formal offer, nor is it clear how much Reliance might decide to put on the table.

The possibilities are further complicated by the potential for Essar to instead sell its 33 per cent to either of the other bidders. Vodafone would be restricted to owning 74 per cent of the resulting company so would need another (local) partner if it bought up both parts.

All this is looking very nice for Hutchinson, which saw its shares on the Hong Kong stock exchange rise 5 per cent on.

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