French billionaire and telecoms tycoon Xavier Niel said he plans to acquire Lifecell, Ukraine’s third largest mobile operator, for $500 million through his investment firm NJJ Capital, calling it “cheap” compared to the potential profits.

The deal is subject to authorization from Ukrainian competition authorities, and it could take up to six months to be completed, Niel told members of France's Association of Economic and Financial Journalists.

The purchase, if successful, would give NJJ Capital control over mobile operator Lifecell, international outsourcing contact center Global Bilgi and cellular towers operator Ukrtower, AFP reports.

Niel said the purchase “makes sense” considering the amount of roaming traffic between countries.


Lifecell is currently owned by Turkish operator Turkcell, whose shares rose 1.7 percent following the announcement.

The deal was initially announced in December, but the terms were not disclosed.

Niel owns the telecommunications group Iliad, which operates in France, Italy and Poland. He has also made separate investments in a dozen countries in Europe via NJJ and another firm, Carraun.

In October, the Ukrainian government made a controversial decision to seize the “corporate rights” of two major telecom companies, including Lifecell, in relation to the sanctions placed on multiple Russian oligarchs who indirectly owned the companies.

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Mykhailo Fridman, a Russian oligarch under sanction, owned 7.49 percent of Turkcell shares through the IMTIS Holdings fund, which then owned 19.8 percent of the structure of Turkcell.

Ismet Yazidzhi, a general manager at Lifecell, told Interfax in October that Fridman has “no control or influence over Turkcell, let alone Lifecell.”

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