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Tue 30 Sep 2014 11:58 AM

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Egypt’s tycoon Sawiris says still interested in Telecom Italia

Billionaire businessman made a $3.8bn offer to buy a stake in the struggling Italian operator

Egypt’s tycoon Sawiris says still interested in Telecom Italia
Egyptian tycoon Naguib Sawiris

Egyptian tycoon Naguib Sawiris would invest in Telecom Italia as long as the company kept its stake in Brazilian mobile operator TIM Participacoes, he said on Monday, as foreign bid interest picks up in the struggling operator.

"We have not lost interest," said Sawiris, who had a €3 billion ($3.8 billion) offer to buy a stake in Telecom Italia rejected in 2012.

"This company needs two things: one - a capital increase and two - a desire to expand or improve," Sawiris told Reuters by telephone, making clear he would not be interested if Telecom Italia sold its stake in TIM.

He said he would be prepared to take part in a capital increase but would not buy shares in the market.

Earlier this year, Sawiris said Telecom Italia needed €3 billion to €4 billion to reduce its debt and allow for possible investments. He declined on Monday to say how much he would be prepared to invest.

Telecom Italia has been forced to regroup after losing out to Telefonica in a $9 billion bidding battle for Vivendi's telecoms business in Brazil, GVT.

Burdened with more than €27 billion of net debt, in need of cash to carry out costly network upgrades and lacking a clear direction, Telecom Italia has again turned from hunter to potential prey, several investment bankers have told Reuters.

Last week, Bloomberg reported that US businessman Sol Trujillo was seeking to raise as much as €7.5 billion to bid for a stake in Telecom Italia.

Reached by telephone by Reuters on Monday, Trujillo said: "I don't really comment on rumours." He declined to elaborate.

A changing shareholder structure at Telecom Italia is making it an easier target for potential bidders.

Telefonica, which is still Telecom Italia's largest indirect shareholder with a 14.8 percent interest, is selling out, with an 8.3 percent stake going to Vivendi as part-payment for GVT, and the balance covered by an exchangeable bond which Telefonica sold earlier this year.

In addition, a group of Italian financial institutions have also said they will sell their stake in Telecom Italia, which amounts to a combined 7.6 percent.

Sawiris, a former owner of Italian mobile operator Wind, said he was not in talks with Telecom Italia and would not make another approach unless he knew it was likely to be accepted.

"I made an offer one time. It was rejected. I don't want to go through that again," he said. "I've learned in my life it's better to know that you're welcome before you waste your time."

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