Another Sarin rival ousted at Vodafone

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The Independent Online

Penny Hughes, the former head of Coca-Cola UK, is expected to become the latest victim of the boardroom infighting at Vodafone, and will shortly announce that she is standing down as a non-executive director.

The mobile phone giant will present the departure as a natural refreshening of the board, on which Ms Hughes has served as a non-executive director for eight years.

However, the move is a way for Arun Sarin, Vodafone's chief executive, to cement board support as Lord MacLaurin of Knebworth, the chairman, prepares to retire. Last week he ousted Peter Bamford, the group's marketing director, who was seen as close to its former chief executive, Sir Christopher Gent.

Lord MacLaurin is due to stand down in July, when he will be replaced by Sir John Bond, the outgoing chairman of HSBC. After disagreeing with Mr Sarin about recent strategic moves, Lord MacLaurin had come under pressure to go early.

In the past fortnight, Mr Sarin has presided over a writedown of up to £28bn on the group's businesses in Germany, Italy, Japan and Spain and a deal to sell the Japanese division to Softbank for £7bn. Other bidders are now expressing interest in the Far-East operation.

Verizon, the US phone company, is putting pressure on Vodafone to sell it the UK group's 45 per cent stake in Verizon Wireless for up to $30bn (£17bn).

Many of the leading shareholders in Vodafone believe it should sell the holding. Verizon Mobile uses a different technology from Vodafone and, along with the different branding, this means there are few synergies between the UK group and its American business.

However, a disposal would leave Vodafone facing a tax bill of up to $5bn, and Mr Sarin considers it would be a poor deal to sell at this time.

Ivan Seidenberg, Verizon's chief executive, is understood to have told Vodafone that he has worked out a structure that would cut the tax bill dramatically. This would involve Vodafone purchasing the 17 per cent of Vodafone Italy that it does not own, as part of a complex deal.

Vodafone is understood to be studying Mr Seidenberg's scheme but its finance director, Andy Halford, is sceptical about whether it would work.

The 17 per cent of Vodafone Italy is valued at less than £5bn by Vodafone.

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