HK firm bids $15.4 billion for UK mobile phone operator

HONG KONG - A company controlled by Hong Kong's richest man said Thursday that it is in "exclusive" negotiations to buy mobile phone group O2 for up to $15.4 billion - a deal that would create Britain's largest mobile phone company.  

Hutchison Whampoa - owned by billionaire Li Ka-Shing - said in a filing with the Hong Kong stock exchange that it was in talks to buy the company from Spain's Telefonica for 9.25 billion pounds ($13.9 billion), with a deferred further payment of up to 1 billion pounds after the deal is finalized. 

Hutchison Whampoa said the deal was still subject to due diligence and approval by regulators. 

Shares in Hutchison, which had been suspended for a time Friday morning amid reports of the sale, closed 3 percent higher. 

Hutchison already owns the Britain's Three mobile phone network. 

British telecoms giant BT said in November that it was in preliminary talks to buy back O2, its former domestic mobile phone division, from Telefonica. Then in December it said it had entered talks with the owners of EE, another British mobile phone company, in a 12.5 billion pound deal. 

The deal would establish the largest mobile network operator in Britain, with about 32 million subscribers, and pare down the number of players in the country to three, the pro-Beijing South China Morning Post reported Friday. 

Hutchison's move to buy O2 comes after Li, Asia's richest man, announced this month a $24 billion revamp of his business empire. 

The purchase is the latest in a series of deals. 

Last week, his Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings and its parent, Cheung Kong Holdings, acquired Britain's Eversholt Rail Group for 2.5 billion pounds. Eversholt owns around 28 percent of the UK's country's passenger trains.

The 86-year-old Li is worth $30.6 billion, according to Bloomberg.

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