By Alexander Dziadosz
CAIRO, (Reuters) - Naguib Sawiris, who will sell hisWeather investment vehicle and control of Orascom Telecom to Vimpelcom for $6.6 billion, built hismobile empire by entering markets into which others have fearedto tread.
The 56-year-old Egyptian billionaire and chairman ofOrascom Telecom has set up shop in North Korea,Zimbabwe, post-invasion Iraq and countries where war andsanctions deterred competitors, but promised high growth.
"If you come from a risky destination, then the risk isrelative," Sawiris, the oldest of three brothers from aninfluential Coptic Christian family, said in 2008.
"I remember when I went to Algeria, and they told me theywere killing people there, and there are some bombs, and Isaid, 'this is everyday news in my part of the world, so what'sthe big deal?'," he told U.S. television interviewer CharlieRose.
Orascom's investment in Algeria, made in 2001 when thecountry was still reeling from civil war, was a signatureSawiris move. It paid off at first, but a row with Algiers overback taxes buried an earlier asset sale plan.
"Orascom has got a very successful track record. It's justa shame it's been bitten in Algeria," said IHS Global Insightanalyst Shardul Shrimani.
Vimpelcom said Monday it would pay $6.6 billion to buyItalian group Wind and control Orascom Telecom. Butthe Russian firm said the fate of the Algerian unit Djezzy wasstill not decided, although it wanted to keep it.
The Algerian row led to the collapse of plans earlier thisyear to sell assets to South Africa's MTN.
Outside of telecoms, Sawiris is one of Cairo's mostoutspoken personalities, with investments in media such as theindependent daily newspaper al-Masry al-Youm and a televisionchannel providing secular programmes for young people.
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
His support of separating church and state has irked somepeople. A conservative Muslim sheikh, known for angry edicts,called for boycotting Sawiris' firms in 2007 after he said thespread of the hijab in Egypt made him "feel like a stranger."
Sawiris cites his faith as a source of strength and creditshis education at Cairo's German Evangelical school for his workethic.
Sawiris, trained in technical administration andengineering in Zurich, joined his entrepreneur father Onsi'sfirm in 1979 and established its railway, IT and telecomssectors.
Orascom Telecom was then spun off. His brothers now runOrascom Construction Industries and OrascomDevelopment.
Sawiris says his father Onsi built a contracting businessthat was nationalised in the 1960s under President Gamal AbdelNasser. He moved to Libya, losing assets there too.
"He never gives up on anything. If it's right, he's goingto fight for it. He doesn't let go when he has a goal," Sawiristold CNN in 2005.
Sawiris, who has fought to hang on to some of his assets,has also said money is not his only motive.
"I've turned down a lot of deals in my life, with a lot ofgood profits, because I didn't like the party on the otherside," he told Canadian daily The Globe and Mail in August.
This year, he warded off a bid by France Telecomfor control of their jointly-owned Egyptian operator Mobinil, a move seen as partly sentimental because of thepremium the French firm offered over Mobinil's market value.
But Sawiris still knows when to cut his losses. Just undera decade ago, he sold Orascom's Jordanian unit and other assetsto relieve debts from buying Algerian and other licences.
The Vimpelcom deal marks a shift, taking Sawiris out of thedriver's seat with a non-controlling stake.
"People like me need to start thinking, 'I cannot keepcontrolling my company, I need to cede control in exchange forshared control'," he told Abu Dhabi's The National in March. ($1=.7814 Euro) (Reporting by Alexander Dziadosz. Additional reporting byNicola Leske in Frankfurt. Editing by Robert MacMillan)