Aircel files for bankruptcy, victim of the Indian price war

REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri/File Photo

MUMBAI (Reuters) – Indian mobile carrier Aircel Ltd filed for bankruptcy on Wednesday, pressured by a high debt pile and mounting losses following a price war triggered by a telecom upstart.

Talks between Aircel, 74 percent owned by Malaysia’s Maxis Communications Bhd, and Reliance Communications Ltd (RCom) to combine their wireless business was called off in late 2017 due to regulatory and legal uncertainties and interventions by various parties.

Aircel, whose debt amounts to 155 billion rupees ($2.38 billion), then tried unsuccessfully to restructure its debt.

“Post-detailed discussions with the financial lenders and shareholders, the company could not reach consensus with respect to restructuring of its debt and funding,” Aircel said in a statement.

Aircel said it had decided to pursue a resolution under the country’s Bankruptcy Code as the “appropriate recourse.”

The entry of Reliance Jio in 2016 with free voice and cut-price data plans forced smaller operators to exit the crowded and competitive telecoms market, while bigger players such as Idea Cellular and Vodafone Group Plc’s Indian unit are merging to stave off competition.

As a result of the bankruptcy filing, Malaysian tycoon T.Ananda Krishnan who backed Aircel was poised to lose a total of about $7 billion, marking his biggest ever hit on a soured investment, a Bloomberg report said, citing people familiar with the matter. []

Maxis, a holding company for some of Krishnan’s telecom ventures, has made about $3.4 billion of shareholder advances to Aircel that it won’t be able recoup, the report said.

Maxis also stand to lose around $1.2 billion it injected in return for common stock and subscription to $1.6 billion of redeemable preference shares in the Indian mobile carrier, the report said.

Maxis did not immediately respond for a comment.

($1 = 65.1800 Indian rupees)

(Reporting by Sankalp Phartiyal in Mumbai and additional reporting by Philip George in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu and Arun Koyyur)

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