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China's Fosun becomes fourth suitor for India's troubled Fortis

Bengaluru

INDIA'S cash-strapped Fortis Healthcare Ltd said Fosun International Ltd has offered to invest up to US$350 million, making the Chinese conglomerate the fourth suitor aiming to benefit from a government push for better healthcare.

The unsolicited non-binding offer follows one other offer of investment from local businesses and separate takeover bids from unlisted Manipal Health Enterprises Ltd and Malaysia's IHH Healthcare Bhd.

Interest in Fortis comes as the government works to provide health insurance for about half of India's 1.3 billion population, which analysts expect will encourage more people to use healthcare services.

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Fortis runs about 30 hospitals, having grown rapidly with demand created by an over-stretched public healthcare system.

But lately it has struggled with insufficient cash and increased debt, while regulators investigate allegations that its founders took funds without board approval. The founders deny wrongdoing.

In a regulatory filing late on Tuesday, Fortis said it had received a letter from Fosun in which the Chinese conglomerate offered up to 156 rupees per Fortis share in return for less than a quarter of the firm.

Fosun is one of China's most acquisitive companies. Last month it said it aimed to increase investment in India, and last year announced that it would buy three-quarters of India's Gland Pharma.

"We are aware of the company's near-term cash requirements, strategic plans for consolidation of its real estate assets, and various alternative proposals put forth to the board's consideration," Fosun said in the letter.

The letter showed Fosun also offered a cash infusion of one billion rupees (S$19.96 million) within the next 45 days, including the option of immediately subscribing to Fortis' convertible bonds, provided Fortis grants 30 days of exclusivity to negotiate the investment proposal.

Fosun said its overall investment proposal will best meet Fortis' immediate short- and long-term needs, and that the Chinese firm did not expect to make significant changes to Fortis' senior management, according to the letter.

Last month, Fortis reported a net loss for the half-year through December following the closure of one hospital, and said debt stood at 13.39 billion rupees.

The firm has lost over a third of its market value since its shares peaked in May, after authorities began investigating founder brothers Malvinder and Shivinder Singh for alleged unauthorised use of funds.

The pair resigned from Fortis' board last month following unrelated legal troubles involving the sale of their stake in drugmaker Ranbaxy to Japan's Daiichi Sankyo Co Ltd.

Fortis received its first takeover bid last month from Manipal, which has since sweetened its offer to US$155 per share - valuing Fortis at about US$1.2 billion - following opposition from minority shareholders. That was followed by a US$1.3 billion bid from IHH, which IHH said Fortis declined to consider.

Fortis has also received a combined investment offer of 12.5 billion rupees from Hero Enterprise Investment and the Burman Family Office.

Fortis said on Monday that its board would meet on April 19 to "consider all options". REUTERS