The British government said it is closely monitoring the situation, after a French billionaire increased his stake in UK carrier BT Group, prompting fresh takeover speculation.

Speculation began back in June when a major French telecoms firm purchased a notable stake in BT.

Altice UK purchased a 12.1 percent stake in BT, BT confirmed to Silicon UK in an email at the time.

Stake increase

Altice UK it should be noted is a business wholly owned by Patrick Drahi, who is a French-Israeli telecoms billionaire, who is also the founder and head of Altice Europe, which is the second largest telecoms firm in France.

Now Altice UK has raised its stake in BT.

BT Group issued a statement, acknowledging Alitice UK’s increased voting interest.

“The Board of BT Group has been notified that Altice UK has increased its interest in BT Group’s voting share capital from 12.1 percent to 18.0 percent,” it stated.

“The Board and management of BT Group will continue to operate the business in the interest of all shareholders and remains focussed on the successful execution of its strategy and building on recent performance momentum,” it added.

Altice for its part has previously said it had no plans to make a full bid and it supports BT’s strategy.

But increasing its stake has done little to dampen speculation.

Government intervention?

And BT is not the only party to have noted the share increase, as the British government has bluntly warned all parties involved it is monitoring the situation.

It warned it could would intervene if necessary to protect BT, which is building most of the UK’s critical fibre network.

A person familiar with the situation told Reuters that Drahi notified BT’s new chairman Adam Crozier on Monday after the market had closed.

BT boss Philip Jansen and Crozier met Digital Secretary Nadine Dorries earlier on Monday.

“The government notes the latest acquisition of BT shares by Altice,” a government spokesperson said. “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,” the spokesperson added.

It should be noted that there are other notable BT shareholders.

In 2016 when BT paid £12.6 billion to acquire mobile operator EE, Deutsche Telekom became BT’s largest shareholder, with a 12 percent stake.

Deutsche Telekom’s boss Tim Hoettges reportedly said in September it was weighing options for its 12 percent stake and expected some kind of movement in the next 12 months.

A second source told Reuters that Altice had not bought shares from Deutsche.

BT meanwhile is said to have recently bolstered its takeover defences by hiring boutique advisory group Robey Warshaw.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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