Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico met with the head of mysterious Chinese conglomerate CEFC over the summer, local press claimed on October 11.
Fico’s meeting with Chen Qiutu in late August will only raise speculation over the investor’s next likely move. Reportedly linked to the Chinese military, CEFC has been on a shopping spree over the past year or so, snapping up assets in Czechia, as well as a 50% stake in connected Slovak financial group J&T. The latest target, according to reports, is US Steel Kosice.
Fico and Qiutu – a former media chief for the Chinese People's Liberation Army -allegedly discussed the strategic investments of CEFC in Slovakia, Sme claims. However, the PM did not officially announce the meeting, TASR reports.
CEFC is understood to have run its Czech acquisition spree – which has seen it buy breweries, football clubs, real estate, airlines and travel companies, often at inflated prices - guided by special aides to President Milos Zeman. However, there has been practically no information released to the press.
The Slovak government Office told Sme it is standard procedure that the prime minister meets regularly with representatives of domestic and foreign companies. There is speculation that the Chinese company may be interested in tourism in Slovakia, or in broadcaster TV Joj, which is co-financed by J&T.
However, the situation surrounding US Steel Kosice is the most intriguing. The US owner is understood to be looking to offload the plant, which is struggling on weak global steel markets, a situation largely provoked by cheap Chinese imports.
Fico has been battling US Steel over its investment for years, but is unlikely to be keen to hand Beijing the political clout that would come with owning the largest employer in Slovakia’s east, which is an unemployment blackspot. In 2013, the government stepped in at the eleventh hour, as it fought the plans of parent US Steel to either implement severe cutbacks or sell. Bratislava eventually handed over a package of €15mn in incentives over 15 years.
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