French billionaire buys 2.5pc of Vodafone

The billionaire tycoon Xavier Niel has seized a stake in Vodafone, becoming the second French mogul to swoop on a British telecoms company. The co-owner of the French

newspaper Le Monde has bought a 2.5pc stake in Vodafone through his financial vehicle Atlas Investissement. The move prompted shares in the UK mobile titan to rise by more

than 2pc during morning trading on the London Stock Exchange to 108.76p. In a statement, Mr Neil said Atlas was “supportive” of Vodafone's plans to combine with rivals

across Europe, amid ongoing speculation that it may merge with Three in the UK. He added: “Atlas Investissement’s view is that there are opportunities to accelerate both the

streamlining of Vodafone’s footprint and the separation of its infrastructure assets, further reduce costs, improve profitability, accelerate broadband development in Germany and

other geographies and enhance focus on innovation.” Mr Neil is best known for his ownership of the French telecoms giant Iliad, which he founded in 1990 and includes brands

such as Free Mobile, the fourth biggest mobile operator in France. He started his business career aged 19 and made his fortune on internet pornography, chat lines and peep

shows. Mr Neil's move comes after the French raider Patrick Drahi upped his holding in BT to a near 20pc stake in December, prompting fears that he was preparing the ground

for a takeover. Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng decided to review Mr Drahi's decision to increase his holding from 12.1pc to 18pc, but opted against intervening in the

transaction.