HONG KONG'S Hutchinson Whampoa is set to launch a €2bn cash offer to buy Eircom, the Irish Independent has learned.
The huge Asian company owns '3 Mobile' and is understood to have been behind an earlier bid to buy Eircom that was rejected by examiner Michael McAteer this week.
On Monday, Mr McAteer said he had rejected the earlier bid because of the level of the offer and because of its conditionality, but he did not name the bidder. Last night he said no new offers have been received since, but sources told the Irish Independent that Hutchinson Whampoa is now re-issuing its bid which is centred on a cash offer of €2bn.
Following the earlier rejected bid, Hutchinson Whampoa is understood to be willing to change the terms of its offer, in particular around the conditional nature of the bid, to move ahead with talks.
The company is owned by Chinese billionaire Li Ka Shing. In addition to 3 Mobile in Ireland and the UK, it owns a number of utility companies in Britain.
Earlier this year, a delegation from the same conglomerate met the Government here, and outlined its interest in bidding when the state privatises State-owned assets, such as Dublin Port, ESB and Bord Gais.
Michael McAteer set a deadline of April 23 for non-binding bids for Eircom, and May 7 for binding offers, under a timeline submitted to the Commercial Court when he was appointed Eircom examiner.
Eircom filed for examinership with €4bn of debts in the biggest insolvency in the history of the state.
Even a €2bn offer falls well short of the level needed to repay just Eircom's secured loans, but top lenders have already committed to taking a significant writedown on the debts under plans which they have agreed in order to take control of the company.
Under their own proposal, the top lenders will write off 15pc of the €2.4bn they are owed in exchange for ownership of Eircom.
The remaining €2bn of debt will be "reinstated" to be paid back by the company over time. A lower ranked group of "second lien" lenders will get a payout of 10c in the euro of the €350m they are owed for facilitating that deal.
However, the Hutchinson Whampoa offer could appeal to some lenders because a cash payment would cut out the risk of waiting years to be repaid the bulk of what they are owed by an obviously struggling company in a dire market. Lenders that opt to take the cash however would give up any value to be had from owning Eircom.
Last night, a spokesman for Eircom declined to comment on the latest news. The offer comes after more than a year of negotiations between Eircom, its shareholders and lenders that eventually saw the business collapse into examinership in March.
US investment bank Morgan Stanley has been scouring the globe for a buyer for the company, but up to now no bid has gotten even to the stage of beginning due diligence.