Pizza Express neighbour Smile Telecoms Holdings ‘seeks $51 million’ in survival bid

Pizza Express neighbour Smile Telecoms Holdings ‘seeks $51 million’ in survival bid

Smile Telecoms London.jpg

Troubled African operator Smile Telecoms Holdings, which has moved to a London mews, is seeking injection of US$51 million in a bid for survival.

The company, which runs networks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda, is not connected with the Smile Telecoms based in Manchester, UK. Nor is it connected with Smile Communications, an artistic creation company based in 21 Bedford Square, London.

But the Smile Telecoms Holdings that is reported to be in difficulties has moved its headquarters from Mauritius to central London, where it operates (pictured from Google Streetview) from an upper floor of 12 Charlotte Mews, above Pizza Express’s global innovation centre.

That Smile Telecoms announced on 1 January 2021 “that the head office and the centre of main interests (COMI) of Smile Telecoms Holdings Limited have been shifted to England and Wales”.

It added: “All interested persons, including creditors of Smile Telecoms Holdings Limited, are, therefore, advised to address their further notices, requests, applications and other documents to the new head office and principal operating address of Smile Telecoms Holdings Limited.”

Capacity contacted Smile Telecoms Holdings at the London phone number shown on that announcement. The person who answered, describing herself as a receptionist, said no one was available at the time, but she would pass on a request to call back. A spokeswoman from Smile on a South African number later said the company would get back to Capacity on Wednesday., 

According to a 20 November 2020 filing with Companies House, the UK’s company registration office, Smile Telecoms Holdings is a private company registered in the Republic of Mauritius.

According to some reports, the Charlotte Mews Smile Telecoms is facing court action in the courts of England and Wales this week.

One of its shareholders is Public Investment Corporation (PIC), the pension fund for South African civil servants, and reports say PIC wants to withdraw its investment — but can’t, because of the financial state of Smile Telecoms Holdings.

PIC has a put option on 7.69% of shares of Smile Telecoms acquired for $50 million, part of the $365 million raised by the group five years ago to finance its growth. This put option expires this Wednesday, 31 March. However, if a move to liquidate the company is successful, PIC might get some of its investment back.

The Insolvency Service, the UK government’s register of companies and people in financial difficulty, has no record of any action against Smile Telecoms Holdings.

The Mauritius register of companies simply shows a list of people appointed as directors of Smile Telecoms Holdings, including HRH Prince Abdulaziz Ahmed Abdulaziz Al-Saud, who was appointed in 2008. He chairs the Atheeb group, a Saudi company which describes itself as “one of the leading companies in the Kingdom and the Middle East region”. He notes on the group’s website: “The group’s field of work revolves around shipping and unloading containers from ships, medical services, information and communication technology, operation and maintenance, real estate investment, financial investment, and all services and requirements for the military sectors.”

According to the Mauritius register, Smile Telecoms Holdings has an issued share capital of almost $316 million. 

Last month Smile Telecoms Holdings noted changes in its board, including the retirement of Irene Charnley and Mohammad Wajih Sharbatly, both co-founders of the group.

The company appointed new directors to the board, including Osman Sultan, former CEO of Du in the UAE, and previously CEO of Mobinil — now Orange Egypt. He has been chairing Smile’s Restructuring and Transformation Committee since July 2020.

Other newcomers to the board include Albert Momdjian, a former corporate and investment banker; Caroline Chang, former EMEA general counsel of Farallon, a hedge fund; and Raihan Shaikh-Khaleel, described as an experienced restructuring advisor.

Three years ago Smile was an unsuccessful bidder to take over the former Etisalat Nigeria. 


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