Denis O’Brien is on course to lose majority control over Digicel after the Caribbean telecoms firm he founded over two decades ago was forced to strike a “comprehensive” $1.8bn (€1.7bn) deal to reduce its huge debt burden.
Global interest rate rises have put unprecedented pressure on indebted companies like Mr O’Brien’s. But Digicel was also struggling for some time with the huge civil unrest that has enveloped its significant telecoms market in Haiti, and the debt deal agreed in principle with a significant number of holders of its bond debt has been much wider than many anticipated.
Digicel said that it had agreed with a group of holders representing around half of its bond debt on a deal that “comprehensively addresses the company’s debt and ensures business continuity an uninterrupted service to customers”.
It involves Digicel securing a write-down of $1.8bn of its debt load in return for bondholders taking a major shareholding.
If approved, the deal will mean that Mr O’Brien’s equity holding in his telecoms company will drop significantly, but he will remain on the Digicel board.
“Digicel’s founder, Mr Denis O’Brien has endorsed the proposed transaction as a positive outcome for the business. Mr O’Brien would remain actively involved in the business as a director and retain an equity interest in the recapitalised business,” Digicel said in a statement from Bermuda.
Pressure had been building on Digicel’s finances for some time as the company faced a countdown to a deadline of refinancing a large chunk of its debt with bondholders by a deadline of March 1.
The company had previously agreed to sell its operations in the Pacific which Mr O’Brien had built up over many years from its Jamaica and Haiti bases. Digicel still has operations in a total of 25 markets in the Caribbean and Central America.
However, the company has made clear said that the negotiations were widened into what it called a “comprehensive” deal to help put the telecoms firm on a sound footing.
“Since shortly after the completion of the sale of Digicel Pacific in July 2022