Asia’s richest man gets $1.5 billion from Saudi Arabia for his tech war chest

Now he has attracted a powerful new investor with deep pockets: Saudi Arabia.

The kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), will pay $1.5 billion for a 2.3% stake in Jio Platforms, the digital technology arm of Ambani’s sprawling conglomerate Reliance Industries. The deal, announced on Thursday, values Jio Platforms at close to $68 billion.

It’s the tenth major investment in Jio Platforms since April, when Facebook bet $5.7 billion in one of its biggest ever deals. That deal offered Facebook a crucial foothold in India’s fast-growing internet market and further cemented Ambani’s position as a kingmaker in the region. The social media company has hundreds of millions of users in India and has already invested heavily into growing its own business, but has run into a series of regulatory hurdles in recent years.

Ambani, Asia’s wealthiest man, launched Jio as a telecom network in late 2016 and has since signed up 388 million subscribers. Jio also has an ecosystem of apps, offering those millions of mobile users everything from online grocery shopping and digital payments to video streaming.

Analysts say Ambani’s ultimate ambition is to build the next global technology company, one that can hold its own against the likes of Google (GOOGL), Tencent (TCEHY), Amazon (AMZN) and Alibaba (BABA).
The backing of the Saudi wealth fund, which has investments in several Silicon Valley firms including Uber (UBER) and Tesla (TSLA), will help Ambani further that ambition.

“I welcome PIF as a valued partner in Jio Platforms and look forward to their sustained support and guidance as we take ambitious steps to accelerate India’s digital transformation,” Ambani said in a statement.

Jio has emerged as the prime conduit to cash in on India’s internet boom, with more than 600 million internet users and nearly an equal number yet to come online for the first time.

“We believe that the potential of the Indian digital economy is very exciting and that Jio Platforms provides us with an excellent opportunity to gain access to that growth,” PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan said in a statement.

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