October 21, 2011 / 7:16 AM / 9 years ago

Iliad founder interested in Orange Switzerland-paper

PARIS, Oct 21 (Reuters) - Xavier Niel, founder of French telecom operator Iliad , is one of about ten bidders for Orange Switzerland, business daily Les Echos reported on Friday without citing its sources.

The entrepreneur is said to be bidding on his own and not on behalf of Iliad, which markets broadband, TV, and fixed line calling bundles under the brand name Free and is soon to launch as France’s fourth mobile phone operator.

A spokesman for Xavier Niel declined to comment on Friday.

France Telecom is seeking to exit Switzerland, where it has long lagged in third place in terms of market share behind leader Swisscom and Sunrise . The disposal is part of a broader portfolio review that could see the operator also leave Austria and Portugal.

France Telecom aims to reap 1.5-2 billion euros ($2-2.7 billion) from the Switzerland sale, which has attracted interest largely from private equity firms that would rely on significant bank loans to finance the deal.

The initial bids, submitted October 10, are non-binding and allow potential buyers to gain access to Orange Switzerland’s detailed accounts to be able to make final bids, two people close to the situation have told Reuters.

Les Echos said none of the bidders were eliminated before the second round in an effort to increase competition for the business and boost the sale price.

Among the bidders are private equity firms including Apax Partners, Providence, EQT, Carlyle, as well Egyptian telecom tycoon Naguib Sawiris, several people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

U.S. cable company Liberty Global and the shareholders of French cable company Numericable are also bidding, according to the Les Echos.

Some of the potential bidders see France Telecom’s asking price as too high given the uncertainty about the company and its eventual profitability, especially in light of the auction of fourth generation wireless licences that Swiss regulators are set to carry out early next year.

Financing the operation may also prove difficult for some of the private equity buyers given ongoing concern about European banks amid the deepening sovereign debt crisis, bankers said. (Reporting By Leila Abboud; Editing by Christian Plumb)

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