BT exits Malaysian market with Maxis sale

British Telecommunications PLC (BT) has exited the Malaysian telecommunication business with the agreement in principle to sell its 33 per cent stake in Maxis Communications Bhd. BT is selling the stake for 350 million pounds (US$503 million) to local conglomerate Usaha Tegas Sdn. Bhd., already a significant Maxis shareholder, BT said in a statement Friday.

The sale is subject to final documentation, regulatory and other approvals, BT said in the statement.

BT bought its stake in Maxis in 1998 for around 280 million pounds.

BT CEO Peter Bonfield described the move as a further step forward in BT’s debt-reduction plan. That increases the likelihood that BT will look to unload several other minority investments in the region.

BT currently owns 18 per cent of StarHub Pte. Ltd., Singapore’s second-largest telecommunication company, 20 per cent of Hong Kong-based SmarTone Mobile Communications Ltd., 44 per cent of Indian carrier Bharti Cellular Ltd., and 24.1 per cent of Korea’s LG Telecom Ltd.

A possible sell-off of StarHub has been rumored since October last year, and StarHub officials have consistently rejected the rumors as “speculation”.

BT bought the SmarTone stake in April 1999 for HK$3 billion (US$385 million). The value of that stake has shrunk to around HK$1.5 billion today as SmarTone’s share price has slumped.

As recently as last September, BT used its regional presence to launch WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) roaming between its minority-owned companies in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and India.

The Maxis sale comes one week after BT raised 4.8 billion pounds by selling off its Japanese and Spanish interests.

BT, in London, can be reached at