Bharti Airtel unaware of Econet Wireless damages claim


Mobile operator’s Nigeria unit reportedly seeking $3.1 billion in ownership dispute.

Bharti Airtel Ltd. says it isn’t aware of a reported $3.1 billion damages claim by Econet Wireless Ltd. in a dispute over ownership of the India telecom major’s Nigerian unit. The comments, made late Wednesday, came after Nigerian media cited court documents to report that Econet Wireless has claimed damages from Bharti Airtel after a local court decision in late January.
The court said Bharti’s purchase of the Nigeria unit–now called Airtel Nigeria–from Mobile Telecommunications Co. in 2010 was “null and void” because Econet wasn’t consulted on the deal. Econet officials couldn’t be reached for comment, but media reports cited the company as saying that its 5% stake in the unit was unfairly cancelled when Zain took over the Nigerian company in 2005.
It also claimed that any subsequent change in ownership, including Bharti’s deal with Zain, should be declared null and void. The court upheld Econet’s claim, but Bharti has challenged the order. Bharti said late Wednesday that Econet’s comments are “grossly spurious and misleading.”
Econet Wireless’s disputed 5% stake in Airtel Nigeria hasn’t “been cancelled but has been set aside since 2006, pending final resolution of the ongoing litigation on this matter”, said Bharti, India’s largest and the world’s fifth-largest mobile phone company by subscribers.
“The partial award has also not determined any damages,” it said, referring to the January court order, adding that it expects a hearing on its appeal shortly. Nigeria contributes more than a third of Bharti’s Africa business subscribers and about 10% to its consolidated profit.