February 26, 2018 / 12:54 PM / 3 months ago

UPDATE 1-Telia looks at M&A opportunities in its main Nordic markets

(Adds interview comments)

By Douglas Busvine

BARCELONA, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Nordic telecoms operator Telia hopes to complete a planned exit from its Eurasian businesses this year and is interested in acquisitions in its core markets, board chairwoman Marie Ehrling told Reuters.

Telia announced a retreat in 2015 from central Asia after former management became embroiled in a bribery scandal in Uzbekistan. The company turned the page last year with U.S. and European settlements costing $966 million.

It has sold out of Russia, Georgia, Turkey and Nepal, and is in talks with buyers on disposing of its direct holding in Uzbekistan’s Ucell and its stake in a company called Fintur that owns assets in countries like Moldova and Azerbaijan.

“We have reason to believe that, during 2018, we will finalise our exit process,” Ehrling told Reuters in an interview on Monday during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

“It might take a little bit longer with Uzbekistan. But there are different buyers that have actually shown interest for all the countries that we have right now.”

Ehrling said Telia was in a strong financial position and had “an interesting agenda” in its core Nordic markets, adding that it was looking at different acquisition opportunities in Norway and Sweden.

Asked whether Telia was interested in Norwegian broadband player Get, she said “of course we will look into that.”

“That’s the core, to have good connectivity, and these days it’s very important that you have converged products to offer,” she said.

In Sweden she said it was interesting to note that rival Tele2 was, with its bid for Com Hem, shifting from mobile-only to a more converged approach similar to Telia’s own.

In Denmark, she said Telia would have to see what strategy a consortium that outbid it for TDC would pursue.

More broadly, Ehrling said she expected more cross-border M&A in Europe, a market that remains fragmented at a time when economies of scale are needed to invest in infrastructure and next-generation services.

“In a couple of years I think we will see more cross-border consolidation - and I think it would be good for this industry,” said Ehrling. (Reporting by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Olof Swahnberg, Helena Soderpalm and Jane Merriman)

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