Government approves up to 100 per cent FDI in Bharti Airtel

The approval comes few days before the company has to clear statutory liabilities of up to nearly Rs 35,586 cr.

MUMBAI: The telecom department has approved raising the foreign direct investment (FDI) limit in Bharti Airtel to 100% from an earlier 49%, a provision that can help the telco draw more overseas funds.

“Bharti Airtel has received the approval from the Department of Telecommunications vide its letter dated January 20, 2020, for increasing the limit of foreign investment up to 100% of the paid-up capital,” the telecom company said in a regulatory filing on Tuesday.

“It may also be noted that subject to applicable laws, the aforesaid approval read together with the RBI (Reserve Bank of India) approval dated July 3, 2014, granted to the company allows the FPls/Flls to invest up to 74% of the paid-up capital,” Bharti Airtel said in the statement.


The clearance to raise foreign investment levels came after the combined holding of the promoter and promoter group in Airtel fell to 58.98% from 62.70% after the company raised $2 billion through a private share placement to investors, which included GIC, Fidelity, BlackRock, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Schroder, Warburg Pincus and Segantii Capita.

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Currently, foreign ownership in Bharti Airtel is 44.28%, after the share placement.

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Industry watchers say that to raise their stake back to the previous levels, the promoter group – Mittal family and SingTel – would need to infuse more capital into Airtel, via Bharti Telecom. Bharti Telecom had reportedly sought the government’s nod for Rs 4,900 crore of investment from SingTel and other overseas entities.

Currently, Sunil Mittal and family owns around 52% in Bharti Telecom, which in turn owns less than about 40% stake in Bharti Airtel after the recent share sale. SingTel owns 48% in Bharti Telecom.

And if Bharti Telecom raises funds from its current promoter group – that may include its own overseas entities and SingTel - in proportion to their holdings, overseas stake could cross 50%.

Even a marginal increase in foreign equity would take the foreign investment in Bharti Telecom above 50%, making it a foreign-owned entity. Once that happens, Bharti Telecom's entire stake in Bharti Airtel will automatically be considered foreign investment, Bharti Airtel had said previously.

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And if Bharti Telecom becomes a foreign entity, overseas ownership in Bharti Airtel will rise to over 85%, experts said, necessitating the need for Airtel to take an approval to increase its foreign investment limit to 100%, say market watchers.

Shares of Airtel closed 0.4% higher at Rs 511.35 on the BSE Tuesday.

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The developments come even as Airtel faces statutory dues of more than Rs 35,500 crore, to be paid by Thursday, and is fighting a legal battle to get a longer window to pay up.
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