Helios, others bid for Nigerian telecoms firm 9mobile - sources

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By Chijioke Ohuocha

LAGOS (Reuters) - Private equity firm Helios Investment Partners has submitted a bid to acquire Nigeria's 9mobile under a sale process aimed at finding new investors for the debt-laden telecoms firm, one person familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Nigerian lenders have picked Barclays to try to find new investors for 9mobile after banks took over the telecoms firm, formerly called Etisalat Nigeria, for defaulting on its loan.

Since the debt issue, 9mobile, the country's fourth biggest operator, has lost subscribers. In October its total number of users had fallen to 17.1 million, giving it a 12.2 percent market share, from 20 million subscribers with a 14 percent share earlier this year, the telecoms regulator said.

South Africa's MTN, the market leader has 36.1 percent.

Nigeria's Globacom and Bharti Airtel's local subsidiary also submitted bids, another source familiar with the matter said.

Smile Telecoms and Teleology Holdings Limited have been shortlisted, Business Day reported.

Helios declined to comment. Globacom, Airtel, Smile and Teleology could not be reached for comment.

Bidders are required to submit a firm financial bid and conduct due diligence by Dec 31, the local paper reported.

Etisalat Nigeria took out a $1.2 billion (£0.8 billion) syndicated loan from a group of 13 local banks but struggled to make repayments this year due to a currency crisis and recession in Nigeria.

The Nigerian central bank intervened to save the company from collapse and prevent creditors from putting it into receivership, leading to a change in its board and management, as well as the new name 9mobile.

The crisis forced the telecoms company's one-time parent Etisalat to terminate its management agreement with its Nigerian business and surrender its 45 percent stake to a trustee following the central bank intervention.

(Editing by Greg Mahlich)

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