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MEA: Weather invests in Wind

The $15 billion buyout of the Italian telecoms company by an Egyptian consortium could be the first of many in Europe. Kate Luxford reports.

Prey becomes predator

THE ACQUISITION IN August of Italy's Wind Telecom by Weather Investments, a consortium led by Egypt's Sawiris family, is groundbreaking. The €12.1 billion deal is not only Europe's biggest-ever leveraged buyout but also the largest-ever acquisition in Europe by a Middle Eastern concern.

The Wind bid was the brainchild of Naguib Sawiris, chairman, CEO and controlling stakeholder of Orascom Telecom Holding. OTH was created in 1998 as a partner in Egypt's first mobile-phone operator, MobiNil, and is just one part of the Orascom commercial empire built up by patriarch Onsi Sawiris over a period of 50 years. Today his three sons run and hold majority stakes in OTH, Orascom Construction Industries (OCI) and Orascom Hotels and Development (OHD). The firms account for about 40% of the market capitalization of the Cairo and Alexandria Stock Exchange.

Explaining the background to the Wind acquisition, Sawiris says: "We formed Weather Investments, and Weather Investments took control of 50% plus one share of OTH." The Sawiris family owns 72% of Weather Investments, 2% is owned by financial investors, and the rest is owned by Enel, the Italian electricity provider that previously controlled Wind.

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