PARIS (Reuters) - Engineering group Alstom unsettled investors on Friday by saying it will not be able to transfer to General Electric a looming U.S. fine over bribery allegations.
The French firm is selling most of its power businesses to the U.S. industrial conglomerate for 12.35 billion euros ($15.15 billion) (9.66 billion pounds) and transferring their liabilities as part of the package. Alstom investors had assumed that meant any related bribery costs would be GE’s.
A person close to the matter last week put the likely settlement at $700 million to cover claims Alstom bribed officials to secure power equipment contracts in Indonesia, India and China.
That would make it the largest criminal fine levied by the United States for foreign bribery.
Speaking at an extraordinary shareholders meeting at which over 99 percent approved the deal, Kron said the settlement talks were in the final stages and broke the news that Alstom, not GE, would probably foot the bill.
“If a settlement is found, which we expect in the near future, the (U.S.) Department of Justice is likely to require that any fine remains the liability of Alstom and cannot even partly be transferred to GE,” he said.
Shares in Alstom closed 3.88 percent lower on the news.
Kron did not put a figure on the likely fine but said the impact would be mitigated by new positive adjustments to the deal, including fees GE will pay to use the Alstom brand.
As a result, the overall negative impact would be around 1-2 percent of the deal, he said.
That would amount to a hit of as much as 247 million euros.
Alstom is also the target of an investigation in Britain over claims it paid bribes to win transport contracts in India, Poland and Tunisia.
Under the GE deal, set to close by mid-2015, GE will buy most of Alstom’s power turbine and grid businesses leaving it focused mainly on building trains and railway equipment.
“Alstom Transport is a solid and viable company, with a 4-5 year order book,” Kron said on French radio.
But he added that Alstom’s Belfort site had a problem of overcapacity.
GE and Alstom will also set up three GE-controlled joint ventures in nuclear power, electricity grids and renewable energy, and GE will sell its rail signaling unit to Alstom.
These adjuncts are designed to soothe government worries about control over French engineering know-how.
Kron reaffirmed that Alstom could return up to 4 billion euros in cash to shareholders from the proceeds.
Asked by French radio why he will receive some 150,000 Alstom shares — worth 4 million euros at current prices — when he leaves Alstom in a few months, Kron said the award was in line with “good practices”.
“Ask the board, they approved it,” he said.
Additional reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Andrew Callus and Mark Potter