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Vodafone CEO to Meet India's Singh: Papers

Reuters
Tuesday, 9 Jan 2007 | 2:53 AM ET

Vodafone Chief Executive Arun Sarin will go to New Delhi on Wednesday to meet India's prime minister, the Daily Telegraph reported, even as rival bidders waited in line to begin due diligence of Hutchison Essar.

The British mobile phone giant has started due diligence on India's fourth-largest mobile phone operator, according to British and Indian newspapers.

India's Economic Times newspaper said advisors from Ernst & Young, investment bank UBS and a team from ABN AMRO Bank, besides an Indian legal firm were involved.

A comment was not immediately available from Vodafone Group Plc.

Indian newspapers and the Financial Times -- quoting people familiar with the matter -- said the banks that would help finance a rival offer by India's Essar group, that part-owns Hutch Essar, also planned to begin due diligence this week.

The Hinduja group is expected to get its turn next week, the Economic Times said, quoting Vice Chairman A.K. Das, while India's Reliance Communications Ltd. is also likely to get its chance "soon", the paper said, citing unnamed sources.

A Reliance Communications spokesman declined comment.

The Daily Telegraph said Indian-born Sarin's meeting with Manmohan Singh, the Indian leader, was part of a charm offensive by Vodafone that also included talks with Telecom Minister Dayanidhi Maran and Commerce Minister Kamal Nath.

The newspaper did not give a source for its information.

An Indian telecom ministry official said on Monday Vodafone officials met ministry representatives last week but not Maran.

In a further twist, EU trade chief Peter Mandelson had asked the Indian government to ensure Vodafone received a fair treatment in the contest for Hutchison Essar, the Guardian said.

Mandelson spoke to Nath on Sunday night, but was understood to have made clear that he was not "taking sides", the newspaper reported, without citing sources.

Hutchison Essar is 67 percent owned by Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing's Hutchison Telecommunications International, with Essar group holding the rest.

The Economic Times, quoting a person close to the situation, said the board of Hutchison Telecommunications is meeting in Hong Kong at the end of this month to examine the various bids.

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