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Vimpelcom eyes sale, merger, refinancing for Italy's Wind-FT

MOSCOW, Dec 23 (Reuters) - Vimpelcom, Russia's third largest mobile telecoms network operator, is considering selling, merging or refinancing its Italian unit Wind, which has debts of around $14 billion, the Financial Times newspaper said on Monday.

The company has been in discussions with Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa, which owns 3 Italia, the paper said, citing sources familiar with the situation.

But the talks did not progress as far as negotiations on a deal, it added.

Telecom Italia is the leading player in Italy's mobile phone market, followed by Vodafone Italia, Vimpelcom's Wind and Hutchison Whampoa's 3 Italia and there has long been speculation that companies will seek to consolidate in the face of fierce price competition.

Earlier this year Hutchison Whampoa tried but failed to do a deal with Telecom Italia, which also rejected approaches made by Wind's former owner Naguib Sawiris, the Egyptian business tycoon.

Vimpelcom, part-owned by Mikhail Fridman's Altimo and Norway's Telenor, bought a 51 percent stake in Egypt-based Orascom Telecom and all of Italy's Wind in 2011 for $6 billion.

Vimpelcom and a spokesman for the Italian mobile unit of Hutchison Whampoa did not respond to requests for comment.