August 1, 2018 / 6:10 PM / a year ago

Cable firm United Group draws interest from Cinven and BC Partners - sources

LONDON/BELGRADE (Reuters) - Cable and pay TV operator United Group has attracted takeover interest from European private equity funds Cinven and BC Partners ahead of an auction process in September, four sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The company, which has been backed by U.S. buyout firm KKR since 2013, could be valued at about 2 billion euros (1.78 billion pounds), two of the sources said, making it one of the biggest private equity deals in the Balkan region.

Based in the Netherlands, United Group is Serbia’s largest cable company and is also active in Slovenia, Bosnia and Montenegro. It provides a full range of telecommunications services from cable TV to fixed and mobile telecoms services.

The auction, which is led by Credit Suisse, is expected to kick off in September and will mainly involve heavyweight private equity firms with a focus on the telecoms industry and an appetite to expand across Central and Eastern Europe, the sources said.

Cinven tried to buy United Group in 2013 when it was sold by its previous owner Mid Europa. It remains interested in seeking control of the company which has revenues of more than 500 million euros, the sources said.

The London-based private equity house has long been active in Central and Eastern Europe where it bought Polish e-commerce firm Allegro in 2016 as part of an investment consortium. Previously it walked away from a deal to buy Slovenia’s state-owned telecoms incumbent Telekom Slovenije in 2015.

Cinven will be vying with BC Partners, Apax and CVC Capital Partners among others, they said.

The private equity investors have all carried out preliminary work on the asset and are waiting for the auction to start, the sources said, with one adding that KKR wants to finalise the sale by the end of the year.

KKR, Cinven and Apax declined to comment while BC Partners and CVC were not immediately available for comment.

Founded in 2000, United Group claims it has the broadest network coverage in the Balkans. It has laid over 15,000 km of fibre-optic cable across the region, reaching 1.77 million homes.

Previously known as SBB Telemach, the business was rebranded in 2013 and went through a series of bolt-on acquisitions including the purchase of Croatian broadcaster Nova TV which was cleared by the local watchdog in March.

United Group has the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) as a minority investor and employs almost 3,500 people.

It recently committed to investing over 600 million euros in infrastructure projects in various countries in South Eastern Europe.

($1 = 0.8576 euros)

Reporting By Pamela Barbaglia; Editing by Kirsten Donovan

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