To trim Rs 83,888 cr debt, Bharat Airtel to sell 950 mobile towers in Congo

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Mumbai | Updated: May 6, 2016 8:43:16 AM

Private-equity backed Helios Towers Africa is an independent tower company that owns and leases about 5,500 telecom towers in various African countries.

Bharti Airtel shares, bse sensexPrivate-equity backed Helios Towers Africa is an independent tower company that owns and leases about 5,500 telecom towers in various African countries. (Reuters)

As part of its ongoing efforts to trim its Rs 83,888.3 crore debt, Bharti Airtel, on Thursday said its Netherlands-based subsidiary has signed a definitive agreement to sell-and-leaseback abouot 950 telecommunications towers in the Democratic Republic of Congo to Helios Tower Africa.

“The agreement will allow Airtel to focus on its core business and customers, while enabling it to deleverage through debt reduction. The deal will significantly reduce Airtel’s ongoing capital expenditure on passive infrastructure and also mitigate the proliferation of towers through enhanced sharing,” the company said in a regulatory filing to the stock exchanges. Bharti and Helios did not disclose the value of the transaction.

Private-equity backed Helios Towers Africa is an independent tower company that owns and leases about 5,500 telecom towers in various African countries.

Helios counts Helios Investment Partners, Quantum Strategic Partners, Albright Capital Management LLC, RIT Capital Partners Plc, the International Finance Corporation and Millicom International Cellular among its investors.

The deal is among the series of similar transactions in the past few quarters by Bharti to repay part of its loans, majority of which it had taken in 2010 to buy the African operations of Mobile Telecommunications Co, Zain, which marked the foray of the Indian operator into the continent.

Since then, Bharti’s profits have been under pressure because of the high interest it had to pay on the loans while the African unit did not turn profitable as originally expected.

Bharti had recast most of its loans into long-term bonds thus reducing the interest payout. Later, it began selling some of its assets including telecom towers and some African operations to repay some part of the debt.

In January, Bharti sold its operations in Burkina Faso and Sierra Leone to Orange, while a similar sale agreement for its companies in Chad and Congo Brazzaville had lapsed.

The company had also agreed to merge its Bangladesh operations with Robi Axiata, and reduce its exposure in the neighbouring country. Few weeks earlier, Airtel Tanzania, has signed a definitive pact to sell and leaseback about 1350 telecommunications towers to American Tower Corp, for $179 million.

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