June 2 (Reuters) - MTN’s (MTNJ.J) top two shareholders -- South Africa’s state pension fund PIC and Lebanon’s influential Mikati family -- have both in principle backed a possible merger between the South African mobile company and India’s Bharti Airtel (BRTI.BO) that could create the world’s No. 3 mobile firm by subscribers.
* The Public Investment Corporation is owned by the South African government and manages civil servant pension funds.
* It is South Africa’s biggest fund manager with assets worth 786.8 billion rand ($98.84 billion) at March 31 2008.
* It holds 21 percent of MTN after a complex black economic empowerment deal that became effective last month, making it the company’s biggest shareholder.
* CEO Brian Molefe told Reuters he supported an MTN-Bharti deal in principle, but wanted a better price [ID:nL21014136]
* With sizeable stakes in many of South Africa’s blue-chip firms, the PIC is extremely powerful. Molefe has used his leverage to lobby for greater black representation at an executive and shareholder level.
* The local Financial Mail weekly reported Molefe, viewed as close to former president Thabo Mbeki, could face pressure to quit under the new government of Jacob Zuma. Molefe told Reuters his contract expires in March 2010, adding he would consider staying longer. [ID:nWEA5153]
* The family is led by brothers Taha, 60, and Najib, 54. Both were ranked 334 on Forbes billionaires list for 2009, worth $2 billion each.
* They are Sunni Muslim from Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli.
* The two men founded telecom company Investcom at the height of Lebanon’s civil war in 1982, which pioneered mobile phone services first in Lebanon and then in emerging markets.
* After listing on the London and Dubai stock exchanges, the Mikati family sold Investcom to MTN for $5.5 billion in 2006.
* The family runs M1 Group, a multi-billion dollar conglomerate invested in real estate, Geneva airline Fly Baboo and fashion line Facconable, as well as oil and gas.
* The Mikati family owns about 10 percent of MTN via the M1 Group [ID:nLT023744]. Taha’s son Azmi Mikati sits on MTN’s board.
* While Taha is seen as the leader of the family’s business empire, Najib entered politics in 1998 when he was appointed a cabinet minister. He was prime minister for three month after the assassination of billionaire statesman Rafik al-Hariri in 2005.
* Najib is running in Sunday’s Lebanon general election and is set to be elected to parliament for the first time. He is among the favourites to become prime minister again.
Sources: Reuters News, PIC website www.pic.gov.za, M1 Group wwww.m1group.com
Reporting by Gugulakhe Lourie in Johannesburg and Nadim Ladki in Beirut; Editing by David Cowell