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The family of Thaksin Shinawatra, the Thai prime minister, is trying to sell at least part of its telecoms-to-airlines business empire in a deal that could raise up to $1.7bn and help dispel criticism of a conflict of interest.

People close to the situation said that, over the past few months, telecoms companies including Japan’s NTT DoCoMo, China Mobile and Singapore Telecom had been approached with offers to buy some or all of the family’s 49.6 per cent holding in Shin Corp, the holding company it controls.

The family is believed to have targeted Asian mobile phone operators because its most valuable asset is Shin Corp’s 43 per cent holding in Advanced Info Service (AIS), Thailand’s largest cellular business.

However, it is understood that both NTT DoCoMo and China Mobile turned down the deal because of price concern, leaving SingTel the most likely suitor.

SingTel, which is controlled by Temasek, the state investment agency, owns a 21.4 per cent stake in AIS and has been looking to expand outside Singapore.

Analysts questioned whether a telecoms company would want to buy into Shin Corp, which also has stakes in Shin Satellite, an Asian satellite operator; iTV, a television channel; Thai Air Asia, a low-cost airline; and Capital OK, a finance company.

However, people close to the situation said a deal to buy the family stake, which was valued at about $1.7bn at Tuesday’s closing price, could enable a telecoms company to gain control of AIS at an attractive valuation.

The non-core businesses could be divested in back-to-back deals, they added.

Executives at Shin Corp could not be reached yesterday but a spokeswoman pointed to an announcement to the stock exchange last month denying local reports of a sale of the stake to SingTel.

The Singaporean company and NTT DoCoMo declined to comment yesterday. China Mobile was unavailable for comment.

While Mr Thaksin transferred his shareholdings in his empire to his wife, children, and other close relatives – legally separating himself from the corporation – his tenure as prime minister has been dogged by allegations that he has used his political power to further the family’s business interests.

Many Thai analysts believe the family may want to rid the prime minister of a “bit of a political liability” and boost his popularity through a sale.

But others say there are financial reasons to sell the conglomerate, which has long traded at a discount to the value of its component parts in spite of a nearly eight-fold rise in its share price over the past five years.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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