Hutchison Whampoa

Li flagship looks to clear EC probe of 780M euro O2 Ireland acquisition

Three Ireland is confident an EC probe will clear the way to acquiring Telefonica's Irish business

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 November, 2013, 1:58am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 November, 2013, 1:58am

A subsidiary of Hutchison Whampoa says it is confident an in-depth review by the European Commission will clear its proposed €780 million (HK$87.1 billion) acquisition of Spanish group Telefonica's O2 mobile business in Ireland.

The European Commission opened a so-called Phase 2 examination of that purchase agreement - announced by Hutchison subsidiary Three Ireland on June 24 - late on Wednesday.

In a statement posted on Hutchison's website yesterday, Three Ireland said: "The commission's decision to open an in-depth investigation is not unexpected in the context of previous statements by the commission that it would take a close look at in-country telecoms mergers.

"Three Ireland has had open and constructive discussions with the commission throughout the first phase of the merger review process.

"It expects to continue to work closely with the commission to obtain clearance for the acquisition."

The deal would combine two of Ireland's four mobile networks and create a player of similar size to the largest operator, Vodafone Ireland.

The commission has said the transaction "would remove an important competitive force" in the market.

It also raised concerns that the merger could hamper the future competitiveness of Eircom, which has a mobile network-sharing arrangement with the firms under review.

Three Ireland, however, said the proposed merger "will be good for both competition and consumers in Ireland".

It said the merger would give it "the scale necessary to invest more heavily in its network infrastructure", which would benefit consumers in terms of rolling out high-speed 4G mobile services and attractive pricing.

The mobile network operator said it was "confident that the merger will be approved by the commission".

Three Ireland added that the in-depth inquiry "does not prejudge the final outcome of the commission's review".

The commission, meanwhile, said it had 90 working days, until March 24, to make a decision on the matter.

Hutchison, which entered Ireland in 2005, has invested more than €800 million to build its 3G mobile network in the country. Three and O2 Ireland had combined revenues of €803 million last year.