Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has been instructed by South African company MTN Group to advise on its merger with mobile ­operator Bharti Airtel.

Freshfields partner Bruce Embley advised MTN on the deal, which could see the company acquire a 36 per cent interest in Bharti, with Bharti acquiring a 49 per cent shareholding in MTN.

Bharti is being advised by Indian firm AZB & Partners.

Freshfields has an existing relationship with MTN. Embley led a team from the magic circle firm advising the South African company on its $5.53bn (£3.5bn) acquisition of Investcom in 2005.

More recently Freshfields advised MTN on its 2008 alliance with Indian mobile company Reliance Communications. Embley led a team advising MTN, while Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton was instructed by Paris-based partner Pierre-Yves Chabert on the £7.3bn deal.

The current deal would allow Bharti and MTN to expand into Asia. MTN would help Bharti enter Africa and the Middle East.