Belgian and Chinese interest muddies race for Opel

Speculation swirled around the troubled German automaker Opel on Monday, with conflicting news about an offer by Beijing-based auto group BAIC and a new overture by Belgium-based investor RHJ International.

Belgian and Chinese interest muddies race for Opel
Photo: DPA

The German government denied a media report which said Berlin feared a “dangerous dependence” on China if BAIC were to take over Opel.

Mass circulation daily Bild earlier cited an expert government report as saying: “The Chinese government clearly wants to gain access to modern technology.”

There is a danger that the German carmaker “could become dangerously dependent on the Chinese state,” the report added, according to Bild. But a spokeswoman for Economy Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg disputed the report.

“I cannot confirm this. Such a report does not exist,” she told a regular news briefing.

In Brussels, RHJI said it was in talks with Opel’s parent company General Motors on buying a majority stake in the German auto-maker.

“These discussions have been taking place over a number of weeks and are at an advanced stage,” the investment group said in a statement.

The Russian-backed Canadian autoparts maker Magna is still seen as best placed for an Opel takeover, though talks which followed the signing of a letter of intent have hit some snags.

Magna is the preferred investor of the German government and of GM, but the other two bidders have improved their offers in recent days, seemingly throwing the race wide open again.

Magna and GM signed a joint letter in late May concerning Opel under the aegis of the German government, which is to provide substantial financial support for a deal.

It was supposed to have been tied up by mid-July but this is now likely to be pushed back, economy ministry sources said.

Sources with knowledge of RHJI’s discussions with Opel, cited by Belgium’s Flemish-language De Standaard newspaper, said the investment group was working on an “improved offer” that would be submitted Monday or Tuesday.

RHJI describes itself as “a diversified holding company focused on creating long-term value for its shareholders by acquiring and operating businesses”.

But Dow Jones Newswires quoted KBC Securities as saying there were questions about how RHJI would pay for Opel, because it had limited cash reserves and no financial backers had been identified.

KBC concluded that bid was unlikely to win out over either Magna or BAIC.

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Emergency numbers fail in several German states

Callers to the emergency numbers 110 and 112 weren’t able to reach operators Thursday morning in several German states.

The 112 emergency number on an ambulance.
The 112 emergency number on an ambulance. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

The emergency number 110 for police and 112 for fire crews failed around the country early Thursday morning, with callers unable to reach emergency operators for urgent assistance between about 4:30 am and 5:40 am local time.

The Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Aid is looking into these outages, which were reported in states including Lower Saxony, Baden-Württemberg, and  Brandenburg, and in major cities like Berlin, Cologne, Hamburg, and Frankfurt. Cologne was further affected by cuts to electricity, drinking water, and regular telephone services. Lower Saxony also saw disruptions to the internal phone networks of police and hospitals.

Emergency services are not reporting any more disturbances and people should be able to once again reach 110 and 112 around the country as normal.

Investigators are looking into the problem, but haven’t yet established a cause or any consequences that may have happened due to the outage. Provider Deutsche Telekom says they have ruled out the possibility of an attack by hackers.