Was the Hutch-Vodafone deal 'done' before it was done?

Was the Hutch-Vodafone deal done before it was done? That's not a trick question, it's a question that begs to be asked, based on circumstances surrounding the deal, reports CNBC-TV18.

On a warm August day last year, the Hutch office in Mumbai had some special visitors - officials from Vodafone. The visit was informal, the discussion kept under wraps. This was a couple of months before it became known that Hutch wanted to sell its stake in Hutch Essar.

There's no way to prove it, but sources tell us Vodafone's interest dates back to August, when it had informal talks with Hutchison over the sale of it's majority stake in Hutch Essar. We hear Vodafone may have discreetly done some due diligence on the company as well. But that's not the only reason there's speculation that the Hutch deal was done before it was publicly announced.

The Hinduja Group was the last to enter the race for Hutch Essar. That and the lack of any other telecom investments or experience meant that they were taken lightly as contenders for Hutch's stake. But they did get an opportunity to do their due diligence on the company. Except that before their diligence was completed Hutch called for binding bids. Hinduja sources claim their bid was higher than Vodafone's. Investment banking sources claim it wasn't considered seriously because the financing wasn't tied up.

Hinduja's diligence schedule was delayed — but then both sides had agreed to it, we hear. So why didn't the Hinduja Group get a chance to complete their due diligence or a chance to explain the financing support for their bid?