October 16, 2018 / 8:44 AM / 9 months ago

Clariant elects Saudi reps to board as tensions rise over missing journalist

BASEL, Switzerland (Reuters) - Swiss chemicals group Clariant (CLN.S) elected four representatives of its Saudi anchor shareholder to its board on Tuesday as its new chief executive acknowledged rising tensions over a missing Saudi journalist could hurt its business.

FILE PHOTO - A woman stands next to a logo of Swiss specialty chemicals company Clariant ahead of a news conference to present the company's full-year results, in Zurich, Switzerland, February 14, 2018. REUTERS/Moritz Hager

The vote came as Credit Suisse (CSGN.S) pulled out of an investment summit in the Middle Eastern kingdom, the latest western company to shun Saudi Arabia amidst the mystery surrounding the fate of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Clariant, which has state-controlled Saudi Basic Industries Corp (SABIC) 2010.SE as its largest shareholder, said the uncertainties surrounding Saudi Arabia could hit it and rivals who operate in region.

“If there is a major trade disruption involving Saudi Arabia, Clariant will be affected and many others, I may say even possibly more than Clariant, will be affected,” Ernesto Occhiello told reporters.

“If there is no trade disruption the competitive scenario will remain untouched. We will see,” said Occhiello, who was head of specialities at SABIC before taking charge at Clariant on Tuesday.

“I wouldn’t consider the fact that Saudi Arabia is going through a lively few days in the media as having an impact on the ability of Clariant to compete with other parties.”

Saudi Arabia’s riyal rebounded against the dollar after CNN reported Riyadh was preparing to acknowledge Khashoggi died in a botched interrogation.

Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and Washington Post columnist critical of Riyadh’s policies, disappeared on October 2 after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkey believes he was murdered and his body removed. Saudi Arabia has denied that.

Europe’s largest economies — Britain, France and Germany — said on Sunday they were treating the case with “the utmost seriousness”, while U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened “severe punishment” if it turns out Khashoggi was killed.

Clariant and 24.99 percent shareholder SABIC - which is 70 percent owned by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund - are merging their high-performance materials businesses, a move that will include the sale of some plastics and coatings activities.

Occhiello is replacing Hariolf Kottmann, who was elected chairman at Tuesday’s extraordinary general meeting.

“SABIC has changed its corporate governance significantly in the last 10 years, bringing in international experience to the board,” Kottmann said.

Clariant shareholders raised no objections to SABIC’s presence on the board, with just one saying he was concerned about expanding the board to 12 directors from 10.

Kottmann reiterated that SABIC could increase its stake, but had no plans to launch a full takeover of Clariant.

Kottmann said he expected to raise 1.5 billion (1.2 billion pounds) to 1.6 billion Swiss francs from selling parts of its plastics and coatings business, with money likely going to SABIC as compensation for creating the materials joint venture.

Clariant has not started negotiations to sell off businesses. Selling the medical packaging business could be accomplished easily, he said, although divesting the pigments business could take at least one-and-a-half years.

Clariant shares gained 0.5 percent by midday, while SABIC rose 2.9 percent.

Reporting by John Revill; Editing by Michael Shields and Alexandra Hudson

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