British Steel ends exclusive talks with Turkish military pension fund

Ed Sykes

The identity of the new owner of British Steel was once again in doubt on Wednesday as the Official Receiver responsible for selling the business said it will start talking to other potential suitors. The decision by the government’s Insolvency Service comes as a two-month period of exclusive talks between the department and Turkish-owned Ataer Holding ends this week.

The Turkish army, meanwhile

Ataer is the investment division of Turkey’s armed forces pension fund (Oyak). As the Guardian reported, Oyak is “a Turkish military pension fund set up shortly after the country’s 1960 military coup”. The current Turkish regime of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, meanwhile, was found guilty in 2018 by the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal of war crimes against the Kurdish people both at home and abroad. The Canary reported on the actions of the Turkish army – the second largest in NATO – as they were happening.

Currently, Turkish-led forces are occupying northern Syria. Their invasion has so far killed over 200 civilians, created around 300,000 refugees, and allowed hundreds of Daesh (Isis/Isil) supporters to escape detention. Critics claim the attack is an excuse for ethnic cleansing, and evidence is mounting to show that the invaders are allegedly committing war crimes.

Ataer, which invests funds for the Turkish Armed Forces Assistance Fund – or Oyak – already owns nearly 50% of Turkey’s biggest steel producer, Erdemir. However, there has been criticism that the company is too close to the Turkish government and lacks accountability. Previous reports had suggested that Oyak wants to buy British Steel as the first step to buying up steel assets across the world.

British Steel negotiations

The Official Receiver said: “While discussions with Ataer are continuing, discussions with other parties who have expressed continued and renewed interest in acquiring the whole British Steel business will now be possible.

“I have instructed the Special Managers to engage with these additional interested parties. Diligence team members from these parties are expected to visit the company’s sites over the coming days and weeks.”

Previous reports have suggested that investment vehicle Ataer, which is controlled by Turkey’s military pension fund, is concerned at the lack of progress to push through price cuts with suppliers.

But the Official Receiver insisted: “Ataer remain very much interested in acquiring the business and we remain in detailed discussions with them to conclude a sale.”

The news is expected to cause concern among British Steel’s 5,000 staff, including 4,000 at its plant in Scunthorpe, and a further 700 on Teesside in north-east England.

The company is also indirectly responsible for 20,000 workers in the supply chain and produces around 2.5 million tonnes of steel a year.

Calls for UK government support

The Unite union called on Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom to guarantee the government’s continued support for British Steel and honour previous commitments on research and investment necessary to facilitate the smooth sale of the steelmaker.

Assistant general secretary for manufacturing Steve Turner said: “I have written to the Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom requesting an urgent meeting.

“It is vital that the Government continues to stand behind British Steel until the sale process is finalised to maintain customer, supplier and workforce confidence in a company which can have bright future.

“This includes honouring commitments on research and investment which assist the smooth sale process of British Steel and a recognition that the success of the steelmaker is central to any future UK industrial strategy.”

British Steel was put into compulsory liquidation in May after talks between previous owner Greybull and the government collapsed, leading the business to be run by the Official Receiver.

Featured image and additional content via Press Association

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Ed Sykes