Jul 11, 2022
UK Security Probe Asks for More Details on Drahi’s BT Stake
(Bloomberg) -- The UK has stopped the clock in a probe to request more information about French billionaire Patrick Drahi’s stake-building at BT Group Plc, under a new law which could let officials impose conditions or even block the tycoon.
The government, which had initially set a deadline of last week for the investigation, has requested more information about the BT deal, according to people with knowledge of the process, who asked not to be identified because it’s confidential. The precise reasons and length of time required for the information notice couldn’t be immediately discovered.
Drahi’s deal for an 18% stake in Britain’s former phone monopoly is being scrutinized under the National Security and Investment Act, which came into effect in January and gives ministers the options of clearing or blocking deals, imposing conditions or even unpicking them retrospectively. These early probes are seen as important test cases as the UK takes a closer interest in major industries.
The government has also delayed an assessment of the Chinese-led takeover of the country’s biggest microchip factory. Originally due last week, a probe into Nexperia Holding’s acquisition of Welsh chipmaker Newport Wafer Fab has been officially extended for another 45 working days, one of the people said, giving officials until the first week of September for that transaction. This official extension is a different mechanism to the BT information request.
Representatives for BT and Drahi’s investment vehicle, Altice UK, declined to comment, while spokespeople for Nexperia, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industry Strategy didn’t immediately reply to requests for comment.
Nexperia, a subsidiary of China’s Wingtech Technologies Co., bought Newport Wafer Fab last year, a month after telecom tycoon Drahi revealed his surprise stake in the country’s biggest broadband operator BT via Altice.
In May, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng announced probes into both deals. Kwarteng has remained in his Cabinet post despite a mass exodus of fellow ministers and the resignation of Prime Minister Boris Johnson. After one extension the government can request more time to investigate deals, but only with the buyer’s agreement.
The sale of Truphone Ltd., a smaller British telecom firm backed by sanctioned Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, has also been halted pending a UK security review, and the buyers have challenged the decision, a separate person familiar with the matter had said. The bidding group believes that review is linked to a commercial agreement with BT.
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