France Telecom Sells Swiss Unit to Apax

Buyout shop Apax Partners is paying about 1.6 billion euros ($2.09 billion) to buy the mobile phone operator Orange Switzerland from France Telecom, Reuters reported. Apax said that the deal will be submitted to France Telecom’s board in January.

(Reuters) – France Telecom will sell its mobile phone operator Orange Switzerland to private equity group Apax Partners for about 1.6 billion euros, as the French company seeks to sell its assets in that country.

Apax, which announced the deal late on Friday, said the transaction, subject to approval by regulators, will be submitted to France Telecom’s board in January.

As part of a broader portfolio review, France Telecom had been seeking to exit Switzerland where it is the third-largest player with about a 17 percent market share.

The company, which received five offers in the auction of the unit, had said it hoped to reap 1.5-2 billion euros from the sale, pledging to return up to 800 million euros of the proceeds to investors via share buybacks.

France Telecom did not immediately return an after-hours call seeking more detail on the deal.

Orange Switzerland currently has about 1.6 million customers, with 2010 revenues of 1.1 billion euros.

Apax said the mobile sector was a “key investment area” for the firm. Other investments have included Danish telecoms operator TDC and Israel’s Bezeq. (Reporting by Alexandria Sage)