BT takeover fears as French billionaire increases stake to 18%

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BT’s largest shareholder has increased his stake in the telecoms giant from 12.1% to 18%, prompting fears the company could be ripe for a takeover.

Israeli-French billionaire Patrick Drahi said he has no plans to take the business private, as he announced he has snapped up a further 585 million shares.

However, his move prompted the Government to warn it could intervene if required, with ministers concerned that any pressure on BT to cut costs could affect the ongoing broadband rollout.

A spokesman said: “The Government notes the latest acquisition of BT shares by Altice. We are monitoring the situation carefully.

“The Government is committed to levelling up the country through digital infrastructure, and will not hesitate to act if required to protect our critical national telecoms infrastructure.”

BT boss Philip Jansen
BT boss Philip Jansen is expected to meet Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries to discuss the company’s future ownership (BT/PA)

He said: “Over recent months we have engaged constructively with the board and management of BT and look forward to continuing that dialogue.

“We continue to hold them in high regard and remain fully supportive of their strategy, principally to play the pivotal role in delivering the expansion of access to a full fibre broadband network – an investment programme which is so important to both BT and to the UK.”

BT said it noted the purchase, adding that it would “continue to operate the business in the interest of all shareholders and remains focused on the successful execution of its strategy and building on recent performance momentum”.

Mr Drahi is said to be worth £9 billion, with his fortune made in the telecoms sector. He also bought the Sotheby’s auction house in 2019.

He made his first purchase of BT shares in June, and interest in the telecoms giant has heated up in recent months with reports that other international players are eyeing up the business.

The UK Government will soon have the power to block any deal that sees a single investor owning more than 25% of a company deemed to be of national significance under the National Security and Investment Bill.

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries is set to meet BT boss Philip Jansen to discuss Mr Drahi’s interest.

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