With eye on China, Germany tightens foreign investment rules

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Berlin on December 19, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 19 December 2018
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With eye on China, Germany tightens foreign investment rules

  • Germany agreed new rules on Wednesday to lower the threshold for screening and even blocking purchases of stakes in German firms by non-Europeans
  • The decision by Angela Merkel’s cabinet is a response to mounting concern that China’s state-backed companies are gaining too much access

BERLIN: Germany agreed new rules on Wednesday to lower the threshold for screening and even blocking purchases of stakes in German firms by non-Europeans, in a move to fend off unwanted takeovers by Chinese investors in strategic areas.
The decision by Angela Merkel’s cabinet is a response to mounting concern that China’s state-backed companies are gaining too much access to key technologies in Europe’s biggest economy while Beijing shields its own companies.
Under the new rules, which come into effect immediately, Berlin can intervene on grounds of public interest if a non-European investor buys a 10 percent stake in a company, sharply reducing the threshold from 25 percent.
“Companies like investing in Germany and it should stay that way. But we must be able to look carefully at who is buying sensitive infrastructure and what consequences that has,” said Economy Minister Peter Altmaier.
Germany introduced the 25 percent threshold in 2004 and expanded its veto powers in 2017. The measures are meant to protect vital infrastructure such as energy, water, food supply, telecommunications, defense, finance and transportation. The rules passed on Wednesday added media companies.
Highlighting fears that Germany is also a target for cyberattacks, the Office for Information Security has warned several German firms of increased Chinese activity, a newspaper reported earlier.
Some business organizations criticized the move.
“Germany must remain open to foreign investors,” said the BDI industry association while the DIHK Chambers of Commerce said the new threshold sent a negative signal to foreign partners.
“It is important to keep a balance ... and to use the instruments only after careful consideration,” said Joachim Pfeiffer, spokesman for economic affairs in Merkel’s conservative bloc, adding: “Sealing ourselves off is not the answer, it leads to a spiral of protectionism.”
So far, Germany has never blocked a stake purchase by a non-European company based on the shareholding threshold rules.
However, China’s Yantai Taihai dropped an attempted purchase of Germany’s Leifeld, a maker of tools for the nuclear power sector, after Berlin signalled in August that it would veto it.
In July, a German state bank took a stake in high-voltage grid operator 50Hertz to stop China’s State Grid buying it after it found no alternative private investor in Europe.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said the new rules mentioned no specific country and that while ties were good, Germany and China shared responsibility to protect free trade.
“We hope Germany can create a fair, open market access environment and stable institutional framework for foreign companies, including Chinese ones, investing in Germany,” she said.
Among prominent investments in Germany are the 2016 purchase of German robotics maker Kuka by China’s Midea and Geely’s surprise purchase of almost 10 percent in Daimler in February.
European Union states agreed earlier this month to a far-reaching system to coordinate scrutiny of foreign investments in Europe, notably from China.BERLIN


Tokyo court rejects ex-Nissan chair Ghosn’s latest bail request

Updated 22 January 2019
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Tokyo court rejects ex-Nissan chair Ghosn’s latest bail request

  • Former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn has been in custody since November 19
  • A Tokyo court rejected an earlier request for bail last week

TOKYO: A Tokyo court has rejected former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn’s latest request for bail, more than two months after his arrest, prolonging a detention that has drawn international scrutiny of Japan’s justice system.
The decision by the Tokyo District Court came a day after Ghosn promised to wear an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet, give up his passport and pay for security guards approved by prosecutors to gain release from a Tokyo detention center.
The court announced its decision in a statement. His family said they will appeal.
Ghosn, 64, has been in custody since November 19. He had a bail hearing Monday. A Tokyo court rejected an earlier request for bail last week.
Ghosn, who led Nissan for two decades, has been charged with falsifying financial reports in underreporting his compensation from Nissan over eight years, and with breach of trust, centering on allegations Ghosn had Nissan temporarily shoulder his personal investment losses and pay a Saudi businessman.
Ghosn has said he is innocent, explaining that the alleged compensation was never decided, Nissan didn’t suffer losses and the payment was for legitimate services.
His wife Carole Ghosn appealed for his release through Human Rights Watch earlier this month, saying Ghosn’s treatment has been harsh and unfair.
Her views echo widespread criticism of Japan’s criminal justice system both inside and outside Japan. Suspects who insist they are innocent get held longer. Suspects are held in a cell and routinely grilled daily by investigators without a lawyer present, although lawyers are allowed to visit.
Ghosn’s lawyer Motonari Ohtsuru has acknowledged Ghosn’s release may not come until the trial, which may be six months away. A date for the trial has not been set.
Nissan officials say an internal investigation has found that Ghosn had schemes to hide his income and that he used company money and assets for personal gain.
A special committee Nissan set up after Ghosn’s arrest to strengthen governance held its first meeting Sunday. Seiichiro Nishioka, a former judge and co-chair, told reporters after the meeting that Ghosn had shown questionable ethics, and too much power within the company had been focused in one person. The committee’s findings are due by late March.
Ghosn’s pay was long a sticking point in Japan, where executives generally get paid far less than their American and other Western counterparts. Ghosn insisted he deserved his higher pay because of his achievements, saying he could have left for another job.
Nissan was on the verge of bankruptcy when alliance partner Renault SA of France sent in Ghosn to help revive it in 1999. Under Ghosn’s leadership, Nissan turned itself around and became one of the most successful auto groups in the world. Ghosn also helped Nissan pioneer ecological auto technology. The Nissan Leaf is the top-selling electric car.