Iliad founder Niel purchases surprise Vodafone stake

Xacier Niel

Xavier Niel, the founder of Iliad, has acquired a 2.5% stake in Vodafone.

The stake was purchased via Niel’s Atlas Investissement business, with the French billionaire saying that there are opportunities to improve profitability and accelerate “ the streamlining of Vodafone’s footprint and the separation of its infrastructure assets”.

The announcement was described as ‘unexpected’ by the FT, which pointed out Niel has accelerated his acquisition strategy following the move to take Iliad private in 2021. 

The 2.5% stake is worth around £750 million, and it remains to be seen whether this will serve as a prelude to a future acquisition attempt.

Iliad previously saw an €11 billion takeover attempt rebuffed by Vodafone for its Italian business in February. However, the months since have seen activist investor Cevian Capital call on Vodafone to overhaul its business and group CEO Nick Read has said that the company is looking to do deals in the UK, Italy and Spain while also selling off Vodafone’s towers business. 

Vodafone last month sold off its Hungarian business to 4iG and Corvinus Zrt for around US$1.8 billion, while also selling a 9.8% stake in the overall business to Emirates Telecommunications Group. The company has also reportedly been in talks to merge its UK business 

This is the latest major foreign investment in a UK telco, and comes weeks after the UK government approved Altice owner Patrick Drahi’s purchase of 5.9% of BT in addition to its pre-existing 12% ownership of the company.

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