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Vodafone to Bid for Indian Phone Company

Vodafone's chief executive said Wednesday that his company will soon make a firm bid for Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa's controlling stake in a leading Indian mobile phone company.

Vodafone CEO Arun Sarin, who is in New Delhi to meet with government officials to discuss the matter, said his company was also open to a partnership with Hutchison's Indian partner -- the Essar Group that holds a 33 percent stake in Hutchison Essar.

Hutchison Whampoa's holding company and its associates hold the remaining 67% stake.

Sarin tersely told reporters that Vodafone will make a formal bid "in a few weeks." He declined to comment on any offer price.

Vodafone emerged a front runner last week after making an approach that reportedly valued all of Hutchison Essar at between $17 billion (13 billion euros) and $18 billion (13 billion euros).

Sarin's visit comes days after the Indian media reported that Vodafone has hired accounting firm Ernst & Young to scrutinize Hutchison Essar's books and New Delhi-based law firm Trilegal to assist in the due diligence process.

The acquisition would help Vodafone gain a strong presence in one of the world's fastest growing mobile phone markets, but a bid could start a bidding war.

Reliance Communications, India's second-largest mobile phone company, and the London-based Hinduja brothers also have voiced interest. Malaysia's Maxis Communications Bhd. and Egypt's Orascom Telecommunications are also reported to be in the race.

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