Airtel and Telkom Kenya faced a delay to completing a planned merger, after an anti-corruption watchdog pushed back the deadline for completing its investigation of the deal.

The companies aimed to close the transaction by 27 September, however the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) instructed regulators to suspend the merger until it finishes its assessment.

Airtel and Telkom Kenya are the second- and third-largest operators in the country, respectively. The merger would boost their competitive edge against market-leader Safaricom, by reducing operating costs and increasing economies of scale.

EACC’s move is the latest stumbling block for the deal, which was first announced in February.

In March, a committee in Kenya’s National Assembly said the deal had “all the hallmarks of a scandal” noting it enabled private individuals to acquire a public company “through the backdoor for a song”.

A month later, Telkom Kenya announced it would not take on Airtel’s debt as part of the deal, a factor Safaricom later picked up on as it urged regulators to closely scrutinise the deal.