President of French telecoms and media group Altice, Patrick Drahi smiles during the inauguration of the Altice Campus in Paris on October 9, 2018.

Eric Piermont | AFP | Getty Images

LONDON — French billionaire Patrick Drahi has increased his stake in British telecommunications company BT, sparking a response from the U.K. government amid fears over a full-blown takeover.

BT said its board was notified that Altice, Drahi’s telecoms group, had increased its ownership of BT to 18% from 12.1%.

Shares of BT slumped 5% Tuesday.

“The Board and management of BT Group will 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,” BT said in a statement Tuesday.

Tracing its origins back to the founding of the world’s first public telegraph company in 1846, BT is an iconic company in U.K. corporate history. The firm was previously state-owned, but was privatized by the end of the 20th century.

In recent years, BT has struggled to convince investors of its vision to upgrade national network infrastructure and become a key player in the move to next-generation 5G mobile internet. Shares of the £16.3 billion ($21.6 billion) firm are down around 55% in the last five years.

Who is Patrick Drahi?

Drahi founded Altice in 2001. A prolific dealmaker, he made a name for himself by snapping up a slew of cable and mobile companies in Europe and the U.S.

The billionaire entrepreneur was born in Morocco but emigrated to France as a teenager. He has a net worth of $7.6 billion, according to Forbes.

He stunned the telecoms world in June when his firm paid £2.2 billion for a 12.1% stake in BT. His interest in BT has fueled concern of a full potential takeover of the company.

Drahi had been prevented from pursuing further equity ownership of BT until Dec. 11 due to U.K. takeover rules. On Tuesday, Altice said it doesn’t intend to acquire BT, but this could change under a certain set of circumstances — including if a third party were to make an offer.

In a statement, Drahi said his firm has “engaged constructively” with BT’s board and management 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,” Drahi said.

UK government responds



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