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BT said close to finalising US$19 billion purchase of Britain's EE

[LONDON] BT Group Plc is close to finaliSing its 12.5 billion pound (US$18.8 billion) bid for the UK's biggest mobile operator EE Ltd., people familiar with the matter said.

A deal may be announced as soon as next week, three people with knowledge of the talks said, asking not to be named because the discussions are private. No major changes are expected to the terms that the companies set out in December, two of the people said.

BT is the biggest phone company in the U.K. and its purchase of EE - from Deutsche Telekom AG and Orange SA - would create a dominant force in British telecommunications, able to provide a full suite of Internet, home phone, TV and mobile services.

As part of the deal terms, Deutsche Telekom would end up with a 12 per cent stake in the enlarged BT and a seat on the board, while France's Orange would get 4 per cent plus a higher share of the cash from the sale.

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Spokesmen for Orange, Deutsche Telekom, BT and EE declined to comment.

BT chief executive Officer Gavin Patterson said today that the companies were "very close to the end" of the due diligence process. BT and EE started exclusive negotiations in December, with the period of exclusivity due to expire in mid- February.

Patterson made the comments as he reported slowing growth in broadband subscribers at BT and an increase in its pension deficit to 7 billion pounds as of June 30, up from 3.9 billion pounds in 2011.

BT shares fell 2.1 per cent to 420.2 pence in London trading at 2:37 pm Deutsche Telekom fell 0.3 per cent to 15.44 euros and Orange declined 1.7 per cent to 15.815 euros.