Western Union Co. has agreed to buy the money transfer business of one of its largest agents, the Irish payment processor Fexco, for $159.5 million in cash.

Western Union would gain direct control of over 10,000 consumer-facing locations in seven European countries in the deal, which it announced Tuesday.

Fexco has been an agent for Western Union since 1990, and in 2001 Western Union bought a 25% stake in the company.

Under Tuesday's agreement, Western Union would give up its stake in Fexco's remaining, non-money-transfer businesses.

Western Union said the deal, which is expected to close in the first half, would help its "strategy to be closer to its consumer base and position its brand for continued growth." It would also help the company prepare for regulatory changes to the European money transfer industry later this year.

Christina Gold, Western Union's president and chief executive, called the move "timely and strategic."

"This transaction will give us greater management of our distribution in these regions and create a more flexible and responsive operational structure as we anticipate the coming regulatory changes to the money transfer business in Europe," she said in a press release.

Western Union, of Englewood, Colo., said it would hire about 300 Fexco employees. Fexco's European call centers would continue to support Western Union.

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