Sun | Feb 18, 2018

US bars Chinese acquisition of MoneyGram

Published:Friday | January 5, 2018 | 12:00 AM
In this December 12, 2017, file photo, Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba Group, talks at the business forum of the 11th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Chinese billionaire Jack Ma has dropped his bid to buy US money transfer company MoneyGram after Washington rejected the US$1.2-billion deal in a fresh example of heightened American scrutiny of Chinese investment.

MoneyGram International Inc and Ma's Ant Financial Services Group failed to gain approval from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) despite efforts to respond to its concerns, MoneyGram CEO Alex Holmes said in a statement Tuesday. The panel reviews proposed foreign acquisitions of US companies on national security grounds.

The failure is a setback to Ma's ambitions to expand into global markets.

MoneyGram shares fell 6.8 per cent in after-hours trading to US$12.40 a share.

"The geopolitical environment has changed considerably since we first announced the proposed transaction with Ant Financial nearly a year ago," Holmes said. "Despite our best efforts to work cooperatively with the US government, it has now become clear that CFIUS will not approve this merger."

The grounds for possible CFIUS objections were not immediately clear.

Visited Trump

Ma is the founder of Alibaba Group, the world's biggest online commerce platform by total sales. He was among the stream of Chinese business leaders who visited US President Donald Trump at Manhattan's Trump Tower last January following his election.

At the time, Alibaba said it could create one million jobs in the United States by helping small businesses sell their products to Chinese and other Asian consumers. Trump told reporters in the Trump Tower lobby that Ma was a "great, great entrepreneur".

Ant Financial, which is linked to Alibaba, agreed in April to buy MoneyGram. Calling off the deal means Ant Financial will pay a US$30-million termination fee to MoneyGram, the statement said.

CFIUS has approved almost all proposed Chinese investments, but a handful of high-profile rejections have made potential Chinese investors skittish.

In September, Trump vetoed the proposed US$1.3-billion acquisition of a semiconductor manufacturer, Lattice Semiconductor, by a Chinese government-financed buyer, Canyon Bridge Capital Partners, after CFIUS objected.

A White House statement at that time cited the importance of "semiconductor supply chain integrity" and the potential transfer of technology to a foreign buyer.

Chinese companies are on a global buying spree to acquire technology and brands. Some purchases of high-tech companies have prompted criticism they might represent security threats or the loss of important national assets.

- AP