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January 9, 2012 2:55 PM

Cleary, Simpson Thacher Advising on European Mobile Phone Business Buyout

Posted by Brian Baxter

France Télécom plans to to sell its Orange Switzerland mobile phone business to private equity firm Apax Partners for about $2.1 billion. The tentative deal, which will be submitted to France Télécom’s board this week, was announced shortly before year-end.

London-based Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton international capital markets partner Pierre-Marie Boury is leading the firm's team advising France Télécom on financing aspects of the Orange Switzerland sale. The unit is one of the leading mobile operators in Switzerland.

Swiss firm Niederer Kraft & Frey is providing M&A counsel to France Télécom, according to a spokesman for the company. Niederer Kraft & Frey advised the Paris-based telecommunications giant two years ago when it sought to merge Swiss Orange with Danish telecom TDC’s Sunrise Communications in a deal that would have resulted in France Télécom owning 75 percent of the combined company.

Simpson Thacher & Bartlett was one of the firms advising TDC on the proposed merger, which the Swiss Competition Commission ultimately blocked in 2010. Now, the firm is representing longtime private equity client Apax in its acquisition of Orange Switzerland. Corporate partner Michael Wolfson, finance partners Ian Barratt, Sinead O’Shea, and Nicholas Shaw, antitrust partner David Vann, Jr., and IP partner Lori Lesser are leading the firm's team advising London-based Apax. (Apax is part owner of ALM Media, parent company and publisher of The Am Law Daily.)

Simpson Thacher advised Apax last year on the private equity firm's $6.3 billion acquisition of medical device manufacturer Kinetic Concepts, as well as on its failed $8.5 billion bid for Danish office cleaning company ISS. The firm also handled Apax’s $3 billion sale of clothier Tommy Hilfiger in 2010. Apax's general counsel is Simon Cresswell; Andrew Devine serves as head of compliance.

Orange Switzerland was formed in 1999 and has 1,200 employees, according to a statement by Paris-based Orange S.A., the mobile unit of France Télécom. Pending regulatory approvals, the sale to Apax is expected to close sometime this year.

Bloomberg reports that France Télécom is shedding assets throughout Europe in order to sharpen its focus on fast-growing markets in Africa and the Middle East. In late 2009, France Télécom tapped Norton Rose to advise on a joint venture with Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile unit to combine operations in the United Kingdom.

The European Commission approved that merger in 2010 and Jones Day, which has also done work for France Télécom, hired the head of Norton Rose's telecom practice in Paris last September.

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