Just a week after declaring the deal was nearly complete, Axiata and Telenor have scrapped their $13 billion merger.
The companies issued a short announcement Friday to say that "due to some complexities in the proposed transaction" they had agreed to terminate discussions.
"Both parties still acknowledge the strong strategic rationale of the proposed transaction," the statement said, adding that they do not rule out the possibility of a future deal.
The merger would have created one of the world's biggest mobile operator groups, with nearly 300 million subscribers in nine Asian countries. Telenor was to have held 56.5% of the stock and Axiata 43.5%.
Axiata CEO Tan Sri Jamaludin Ibrahim last week denied reports that the deal was in jeopardy.
He said commercial discussions were 90% complete and expected an agreement to be clinched by November.
Originally set to be finalized by September, it was a "big and complex" transaction involving 14 large businesses, he explained.
The CEO also said there were a "lot of terms to be agreed upon" in relation to national interest and staffing issues.
One major hurdle appears to have been Indonesia's refusal to endorse the merger.
Telenor's Indonesian subsidiary XL Axiata was essential to the proposed new company, but authorities declined to approve the deal on political grounds, determining that Norway was a party to the EU campaign against palm oil exports.
With Axiata 37% owned by Malaysia's sovereign wealth fund, its political sensitivities were also a factor.
Although Axiata was to have been the minority shareholder, the CEO, chairperson and headquarters would all have been Malaysian.
The merger was intended to combined Telenor's five Asian businesses, totaling approximately 180 million customers, with Axiata's 110 million customers and its tower business edotco.
The companies said the combination of the two would generate synergies of around $5 billion.
Telenor is more likely to feel the impact of the failed transaction. It has shed staff and assets in efforts to improve profitability, but its inability to conclude a deal leaves it searching for a growth path.
Telenor stock was down 4.21% in early trading on the Oslo exchange. Trading in Axiata shares were halted at noon local time in Kuala Lumpur.
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— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading