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Hunt for Hutch hot off ground
- After Corus, a bigger battle begins
four in fray
Some of the companies in the race

Mumbai, Feb. 9: The race for Hutchison Essar has finally begun — and there’s a good chance that it could be tagged as the biggest Indian buyout ever, beating the Tatas’ recent $11.3-billion bid for Corus.

Hutchison Telecom International Ltd — 49 per cent owned by Hong Kong tycoon Li Kashing — wants to sell its 67 per cent stake in India’s fourth largest mobile telephony company.

As the deadline for bids ended at midnight in Hong Kong, four clear bidders are in the fray: three Indian and one British.

The three Indian contenders include the Ruias of Essar, who own a 33 per cent stake in Hutchison Essar and a disputed right of first refusal on any share sale. The other two are Anil Ambani’s Reliance Communications (R-Com) and the Hinduja group.

The British giant in the fray is Vodafone Group, which is headed by Indian-born Arun Sarin.

Late tonight, it was learnt that R-Com, Vodafone, the Hindujas and the Essar group had submitted their bids.

A couple of others are also believed to be in the fray: Orascom of Egypt, which has a 10 per cent indirect stake in Hutchison Essar through a 19.3 per cent stake it holds in Hutchison Telecom, and Altimo of Russia’s Alfa Group.

The size of the bids is believed to be in the region of $16 billion. Some front-runners like Vodafone and Anil Ambani have said in the past that they would not go overboard in bidding for Hutch-Essar.

Hutchison Telecom had indicated that it would not accept bids below $14 billion for the 67 per cent stake. Sources said Vodafone and R-Com were the first to put in their bids via email.

All through the day there was talk that the Ruias would not submit a bid, preferring to rely on their right of first refusal that they believed was enshrined in a shareholders’ agreement with Hutch Telecom. But it seemed the Ruias decided to take no chances and put in a bid even as they asserted their right to be the first claimant to the stake.

Prabal Banerjee, Hinduja group chief financial officer, told The Telegraph that his organisation had submitted a bid.

The Hutch Telecom board is expected to meet on Sunday to evaluate the bids.

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