Li Ka-shing in talks to buy O2 for £10bn

Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing is worth an estimated £22bn according to Forbes magazine
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Asia’s richest person Li Ka-shing is in talks to buy Britain’s second-largest mobile provider O2 for up to £10.25bn ($15.4bn) from Spain’s Telefonica.

His firm, Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa, already owns the Three mobile network, and combining it with O2 would create the UK’s biggest mobile group.

However, the move could face tough scrutiny from competition regulators.

It would reduce the number of major operators in the UK from four to three, which might not benefit consumers.

Mobile network Three to buy O2 in £10bn deal

Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing has been snapping up mobile networks around Europe, recently acquiring Orange in Austria and O2 in Ireland.

Asia’s richest man is poised to take control of the UK’s biggest mobile phone network, after Three announced it had started exclusive takeover talks with its larger rival 02.

Li Ka-shing has an estimated fortune of $34.1bn (£25.5bn) from his sprawling empire of ports, utilities and property, according to Forbes. His conglomerate, Hutchison Whampoa, is the parent company of Three, which confirmed it was ready to pay £10.25bn, mostly in cash, for larger rival 02. The deal would create the UK’s largest mobile phone firm with 31.5 million customers, cutting the number of network owners in the UK from four to three.

From smartphones to sewage treatment, perfume to power lines, 86-year-old Li Ka-shing has a long list of business interests in the UK.

But the £10.25bn deal being negotiated between his conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa and Telefónica’s O2 would be his biggest stake yet.

Hong Kong-based Li already owns retail chains Superdrug, The Perfume Shop and Savers, together with the ports of Harwich, Felixstowe and London Thamesport. Worldwide he controls some 13% of container port capacity. Li also owns UK Power Networks, which runs electricity cables in south-east England.

This week he added Eversholt Rail to his portfolio. His Cheung Kong Group also owns Northumbrian Water, Wales and West Utilities and has a stake in Southern Water.