Sawiris buys mobile firm TIM Hellas

LONDON (Reuters) – Egyptian entrepreneur Naguib Sawiris has agreed to buy Greek mobile phone operator TIM Hellas Telecommunications SA from private equity firms Apax Partners and Texas Pacific Group for -500 million ($646.3 million). The deal, being done using Sawiris’s investment vehicle Weather Investments Spa, also includes -2.9 billion of debt. It was announced by the firms yesterday. Sawiris, who ranked 278 on Forbes magazine’s 2006 list of the world’s richest people, controls Egyptian mobile phone operator Orascom Telecom. Weather also owns Wind Telecommunicazioni Spa, Italy’s third-largest mobile operator and second-largest fixed-line operator. «We expect to create significant value for the group by adding TIM Hellas to our portfolio,» Sawiris said in a statement issued by Weather Investments. Apax and TPG bought TIM Hellas, Greek’s third-largest mobile operator, with 3 million subscribers, from Telecom Italia in June 2005 for -1.6 billion and added Greece’s fourth-largest mobile operator Q-Telecom to it for -360 million in January 2006. «TIM Hellas, which was the first buyout in Greece, demonstrates how private equity can add true value to businesses,» TPG partner Philip Costeletos said. TIM Hellas in December issued -1.47 billion of bonds to recapitalize the company when Apax and TPG opted not to sell the business after fielding offers. The firms instead used favorable debt market conditions to pay themselves a dividend. Weather said it plans to keep the current capital structure of TIM Hellas – comprising December’s issues plus two bonds sold to fund the initial buyout – though Deutsche Bank and Citibank have provided a financing commitment if it needs to change. Bankers said that this commitment was to cover the change-of-control provision in the existing bonds. This allows investors to put the bonds back to the issuer at 101 percent of face value. But with the debt trading well above this level in the market, bankers said they did not expect any bondholders to put the debt. Weather said Orascom Telecom was not affected by the deal, with no additional debt raised, guaranteed or funded by the Egyptian company. IM Hellas bonds rallied early yesterday, with the 8.5 percent bonds due 2013 rising around a percentage point, a trader said. Lehman Bros and Morgan Stanley advised the sellers.