India’s Bharti Airtel is nearing a deal to sell its Sri Lankan mobile subsidiary to UAE-backed local rival Etisalat Lanka, according to unnamed sources close to the negotiations quoted by the Hindu Business Line. Talks have reportedly been ongoing for more than five months and Etisalat – the third largest cellco by users in Sri Lanka – is said by sources to have agreed ‘the broad contours’ of a proposed deal with Airtel – the island’s fourth largest player. Although Manoj Kohli, the CEO of Bharti’s international mobile division (Africa, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka), declined to comment, the paper’s sources claimed that a deal could be announced before Kohli’s scheduled return to India in January. TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database notes that in August 2013 it was reported by local press that Bharti was in ‘advanced discussions’ to sell Airtel Lanka to the UAE-based group, as the Indian-owned cellco continued to post financial losses despite investing over USD300 million on the island since 2007. Although Bharti does not report separate financials for Sri Lanka, press reports claim that the local division incurred net losses of LKR1.9 billion (USD14.3 million) on revenue of LKR3.2 billion for the quarter ended June 2013. Airtel Lanka has been valued at between USD110 million and USD130 million.
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