Apax Czechs out £2bn phone bid

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The Independent Online

Apax Partners, the British venture capital group, has lodged a bid for the £2bn state-owned telecoms network of the Czech Republic.

It is understood that Mike Grabiner, former chief executive of Energis and now a director of Apax, worked closely on the offer for Cesky Telecom and will learn if the bid was successful on Wednesday.

Apax has teamed up with Britain's Doughty Hanson and America's Warburg Pincus to make the offer.

It represents a growing trend of venture capitalists seeking to take advantage of the fall-out in the telecoms sector by picking up assets at bargain-basement prices.

The Czech government, advised by JP Morgan, is keen to sell the business as it grooms itself to join the European Union after 2003.

The government is also entertaining a joint offer thought to be from London-based CVC Capital and America's Spectrum Equity, as well as a bid from TDC, the Danish telecoms operator.

Orange, the mobile operator owned by France Telecom, is understood to be interested in picking up Eurotel, the Czech Republic's largest mobile operator owned by Cesky, but has not submitted a formal bid.

Cesky is 51 per cent owned by the state with a further 27 per cent jointly owned by Holland's KPN and Switzerland's Swisscom.

Originally, the Czech government had said that it wanted to raise at least £1.56bn for its stake.

Trading on the Prague stock exchange, with a market capitalisation of £2bn, analysts said that it is unlikely to achieve its goal.

It is understood that Deutsche Telekom pulled out of the running late last month after the Czech government revealed that Cesky's company structure would have to remain intact for three years.

Taking a lead from the rest of Europe, the Czech Republic is opening its fixed-line telecoms network to competition. Officially, the market was opened in January, but it won't be fully deregulated until January 2003.