Five million shares sold in 'secret' deal

26th August 2005, Comments 0 comments

26 August 2005, BRUSSELS – Wallonia's government has admitted to selling five million shares in the steel multinational Arcelor earlier this summer.

26 August 2005

BRUSSELS – Wallonia's government has admitted to selling five million shares in the steel multinational Arcelor earlier this summer.

On Friday, the Belgian media reported that the government had made EUR 90 million from the sale, which it carried out in July in London.

Wallonia's budget minister, socialist Michel Daerden, admitted to the deal on the public radio station RTBF after information was given to journalists on Thursday by the Liberal opposition.

"We are preparing an important plan for economic redeployment, the famous 'Marshall Plan', which is going to need an enormous amount of capital," he explained to justify the decision.

Wallonia's government announced the 'Marshall Plan' in June, promising economic initiatives to regenerate the region. The French-speaking part of Belgium is suffering stagnation, with thousands of jobs threatened in failing industries.

Before the share sale, the Wallonia government owned 3.2 percent of Arcelor, which runs Cockerill in Belgium.

Daerden said the government had sold a quarter of its shares, which still left it as a major shareholder with enough clout to help protect jobs in the region.

He also insisted the sale did not mean the government had lost faith in the steel industry. "The steel industry remains an important sector," he said. "Just because we are giving up a part of our share in Arcelor doesn't mean we don't believe in its future. Quite the reverse."

The sale, though, is controversial, with the opposition criticising the secret nature of the deal.

Other critics have pointed out that both the socialist party and the unions stood in the way of Economic Minister Serge Kubla (MR) when in January 2003 he proposed selling shares in Arcelor. The liberals have long claimed that a 3.2 percent share holding is too small to have any leverage over the multinational.

Daerden said the government intends to sell another quarter of its shares, but that it will consult workers' representatives if it contemplates selling more than that.

[Copyright Expatica News 2005]

Subject: Belgian news

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