Digicel bondholders line up former Nokia chief as Denis O’Brien loses control

Irish tycoon to see stake decline to 10% as consortium takes controlling interest in mobile business

A group of bondholders preparing to take control of Digicel from founder Denis O’Brien under a massive debt restructuring has lined up an international telecoms veteran as the company’s next chairman.

Rajeev Suri, who has worked in the sector for 35 years, including periods at the helm of Nokia and UK satellite group Inmarsat, is expected to take up the position in the coming months when the restructuring is finalised. Mr Suri, who was born in India, is a Singaporean citizen but lives in London. He will continue to be based in the UK.

While the court-supervised $1.7 billion (€1.55 billion) debt-for-equity swap was sanctioned by the Supreme Court of Bermuda earlier this month, the deal still needs to be approved in each of Digicel’s 25 markets across the Caribbean and Central America. It is understood that final approvals may drift into early next year.

Mr O’Brien, who will see his stake slide to 10 per cent as a consortium of bondholders led by PGIM, Contrarian Capital Management, and GoldenTree Asset Management gain control of the company, will remain on the board. The businessman may ultimately end up with as much as 20 per cent of the company, should warrants attached as an incentive to the restructuring end up being triggered.


The incoming shareholders said in a joint statement on Wednesday that Mr Suri “has a proven track record of transformative delivery and with a strengthened balance sheet, we see considerable potential to grow value and profitability at Digicel”.

The current restructuring is Digicel’s third attempt to overhaul its borrowings in the past five years. It is on track to reduce company debt to $3.12 billion, compared to a peak of over $7 billion in early 2019.

The price at which Mr O’Brien’s warrants can be converted into shares will be based on an equity value target of $1.1 billion for Digicel. A valuation calculation used by debt rating agency Fitch suggests that the company will have an initial equity value of about $375 million after the debt overhaul.

Mr O’Brien said that Mr Suri “is the ideal leader to deliver on Digicel’s next phase of growth”.

Mr Suri most recently served as chief executive of Inmarsat from March 2021 until its acquisition by Viasat in May 2023. He joined Inmarsat from Nokia, where he was chief executive from 2014 to 2020.

Digicel said last month that its chief executive, Oliver Coughlan, will step down from the role by the end of the year, with chief operating officer Maarten Boute taking up the role on an interim basis.

Mr Coughlan, who has been with the group for more than nine years, had been due to retire at the end of 2022 but remained in position to help oversee the restructuring process.

Joe Brennan

Joe Brennan

Joe Brennan is Markets Correspondent of The Irish Times