The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Invasion from Haldia
- Iran loss may be Purnendu gain in Basell

Calcutta, May 4: A Purnendu Chatterjee-led group was tonight locked in final negotiations to sew up the takeover of the Dutch company Basell in what would be the biggest foreign acquisition involving an Indian.

The clutch of investors led by Chatterjee, the private partner in Haldia Petrochemicals, was left virtually the sole bidder for the petrochemicals giant after it was revealed that the Iranian company in the race could not be the buyer for political reasons.

The deal is estimated at 4.4 billion euros ($5.7 billion).

Intense US pressure flattened the chances of Iran's state-owned National Petrochemical Company that was favoured to buy Basell, the world's top producer of the plastic polypropylene, from Royal Dutch/Shell and Germany's BASF, Tehran said.

'Although NPC won all aspects of the Basell tender, due to US pressures we are unofficially told Iran cannot buy Basell,' Iranian news agency ISNA quoted the company's managing director, Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh, as saying.

Chatterjee is bidding for Basell in a team with ICICI Securities and a clutch of US investors. The Rs 5,170-crore Haldia Petrochemicals is expected to join the consortium once it gets a go-ahead from the lenders and the Bengal government, the other promoter.

Sources said the talks between the two sides in London had entered the final stage and the deal could be signed any time.

Successful conclusion would mean a huge financial commitment on the part of Chatterjee, who also has to raise the money (estimated at over Rs 1,600 crore) to buy the Bengal government out of Haldia Petrochemicals.

If Basell, owned equally by Royal Dutch/Shell and BASF, does slip out of Iranian hands and into Chatterjee's lap, it would signal the growing reluctance of European companies to do business with Tehran.

Petrochemical industry observers said that for the current owners of Basell the decision would have been hard to take because in retaliation Iran could block Royal Dutch/Shell's access to its oil fields.

The company has signed contracts to exploit fields in the northern Persian Gulf.

Reuters had reported on Sunday that an acquisition by Iran was becoming less likely because of US opposition.

Determined to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons, the US has threatened to brand as 'proliferators' companies large and small that supply any goods that could be used for civilian or military purposes.

As recently as Saturday, the Iranians were saying they expected to win the battle to buy Basell.

Iran vowed yesterday to press ahead with nuclear activities that could be used to make weapons and accused the US and Israel of threatening international peace with their own atomic arsenals.

ISNA quoted Nematzadeh as saying the US had scuttled the purchase of Basell. 'We have always been harmed by our enemies and this time too the United States tackled the purchase of Basell,' he said.

A state department official told Reuters over the weekend that the department had expressed its concerns to Royal Dutch/Shell and BASF.

He said the US was concerned about potential misuse of Basell technology and the fact that, under the US sanctions regime, American companies would not be able to deal with Basell if Iran took it over.

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