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April 4, 2011 4:41 PM

Linklaters Advising Vodafone on $11.3 Billion Sale of SFR Stake

Posted by Brian Baxter

Another major deal in the telecommunications industry was announced Monday when British mobile phone operator Vodafone Group sold its 44 percent stake in Paris-based cell phone service provider SFR to French media conglomerate Vivendi for $11.3 billion in cash.

The deal follows AT&T's announcement two weeks ago that it would acquire T-Mobile USA from Deutsche Telekom. The $39 billion purchase would vault AT&T past Verizon Wireless as the largest wireless carrier in the United States. Verizon Wireless is a joint venture between Vodafone and Verizon Communications.

Reuters reports that the latest shake-up in the European telecom market gives London-based Vodafone cash to return to shareholders and pay down debt. The company has been busy in recent months selling off minority stakes in assets it does not control.

Linklaters M&A partners Marc Loy in Paris and Iain Fenn in London are advising Vodafone on the sale of its stake in SFR. Fenn previously advised Vodafone on its hostile takeover of Germany's Mannesmann in 2000, the acquisition of a controlling interest in Indian mobile phone operator Hutchison Essar in 2007, and on other deals throughout Europe and South Africa.

Vodafone announced last Thursday that it would pay $5 billion in cash to India's Essar Group to buy a one-third stake in the Indian joint venture. (India is the world's second-largest mobile phone market after China. Vodafone sold its 3.2 percent stake in China Mobile for $6.5 billion last year.)

Vodafone's general counsel is Rosemary Martin, an ex-Mayer Brown partner and former Reuters in-house legal chief who was appointed to the position in January 2010. Martin is being assisted on the SFR sale by Vodafone in-house lawyers Alex Deacon and Paul Andrews.

Allen & Overy corporate partner Marcus Billam and competition partner Olivier Freget in Paris are advising Vivendi, along with Bird & Bird competition partner Claude Lazarus, who recently joined the firm in Paris from now defunct Howrey. Vivendi already owns 56 percent of SFR, which stands for Société Française de Radiotéléphonie. SFR is France's second-largest mobile phone operator.

Vivendi's general counsel is Jean-François Dubos.

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