October 11, 2016 / 8:12 PM / 2 years ago

UPDATE 2-Creditors work with billionaire Sawiris to shore up Brazil's Oi

(Adds statement from communications minister, share price)

SAO PAULO, Oct 11 (Reuters) - A group of bondholders in Oi SA has teamed up with Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris to shore up Brazil’s biggest fixed-line phone operator, which is currently under creditor protection.

The creditors, who are represented by Moelis & Co, said in a statement on Tuesday they will join forces with Sawiris “to discuss and evaluate an alternative recovery plan for Oi” during and after it emerges from bankruptcy.

Their decision to cooperate comes after a series of shareholder disputes and protracted negotiations have delayed discussions about Oi’s recovery plan, which was presented on Sept. 5. Sawiris had been linked with a potential takeover of Oi since last year. The latest speculation came in June, days before Oi filed for bankruptcy protection.

In June, the Rio de Janeiro-based carrier filed for Brazil’s largest bankruptcy in history to restructure 65.4 billion reais ($20.3 billion) of loans.

The Moelis-led group lashed out at Oi’s reorganization plan, calling it “unacceptable” the same week it was filed in a Rio de Janeiro bankruptcy court. On Tuesday, Communications Minister Gilberto Kassab said the government, while trying not to intervene in Oi’s reorganization, is working to avoid a seizure or a state bailout of the carrier.

Preferred shares in Oi rose 0.4 percent to 2.88 reais.

The byproduct of a government-sponsored merger at the end of last decade, Oi succumbed to a heavy debt burden, mounting competition and years of shareholder disputes. After the bondholders, state entities including banks and industry regulator Anatel make up the largest Oi creditor group with about 20 billion reais of debt.

Bondholders frowned at the company’s Sept. 5 plan because it implied a 70 percent reduction on their debt holdings. With 34 billion of bond debt outstanding, these investors form Oi’s largest creditor group.

$1 = 3.2210 reais Reporting by Ana Mano; Additional reporting by Leonardo Goy in Brasilia and Brad Haynes in São Paulo; Editing by Guillermo Parra-Bernal and Lisa Shumaker

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