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Capital Markets

Indian telecoms: No brotherly love as RelCom deal folds

In India it’s simply called The Feud and, on July 18, after years of simmering, it finally boiled over. That day, Mumbai-based industrialist Anil Ambani was finally, unwillingly, forced to pull the plug on a planned telecommunications mega-merger between his flagship corporation Reliance Communications (RelCom) and MTN Group of South Africa.

Anil and Mukesh Ambani

Oh brother: Anil and Mukesh Ambani have barely spoken to one another since their father died in 2002

The alliance would have been ground-breaking, creating one of the world’s most powerful emerging market telecoms firms, with a market cap of $56 billion as of July 25 and boasting 115 million subscribers across Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. Alas it was not to be. To Anil’s frustration, his deal was scuppered: not because of poor organization or a lack of corporate flexibility, nor weak government lobbying or a paucity of hard cash – he had all of them in spades – but because of the intervention of his elder and (only slightly) richer brother, Mukesh.

The fallout has been vicious and acrimonious, and raises questions about the ability of RelCom to make hefty overseas acquisitions, not to mention the viability and reputation of India Inc. "It’s unpalatable," says a Mumbai-based banker who knows both brothers. "However you look at it, it’s unseemly, and it’s bad for India’s image as an up-and-coming country."

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