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UK concern over 'opaque' empire of billionaire Gupta

·2-min read
Indian-born British tycoon Sanjeev Gupta says "it's been the most difficult month of my life'.

Britain's business minister on Tuesday confirmed Boris Johnson's government had refused a £170 million rescue package for billionaire Sanjeev Gupta's steel group due to his business empire's "very opaque" structure.

Kwasi Kwarteng told the BBC Liberty Steel, which groups Gupta's steel activities, was a "national asset" employing around 3,000 people in Britain but that the government could not pump money into "a black box".

He called the structure of Liberty's owner -- Gupta Family Group (GFG) -- "very opaque" and "not helpful".

"We are custodians of taxpayer's money... and we feel that if we gave the (£170 million, $235 million, 200 million euros) money, there was no guarantee that the money would stay in the UK and would protect British jobs," he said.

However, he added that "all options" were being considered to save Liberty Steel's UK plants and jobs, including nationalisation.

"We think that the steel industry has a future in the UK," said Kwarteng, despite the government's planned decarbonisation of the economy.

There is growing concern in Britain about the future of GFG and Liberty Steel, which together employ around 5,000 people domestically and 35,000 worldwide.

Its financial situation has been strained by the bankruptcy of key backer Greensill, which provided short-term loans to companies by paying invoices in advance for a fee.

Gupta said in a GFG podcast that there were "a lot of interested parties that want to help us refinance Greensill" but that any breakthrough "will take some time."

"It's been the most difficult month of my life," said the Indian-born British tycoon.

Since the bankruptcy, GFG has had difficulty obtaining new liquidity, even though the group says it has sufficient funds for its current needs.

Gupta said Greensill's collapse was "a great challenge for us" and that GFG was "managing our cash extremely carefully".

His group's debt was now "substantial", running to "many billions," he revealed, but said he had no plans to sell any parts of the business.

GFG also employs almost 2,500 people in France, where Liberty Steel directly oversees the Ascoval steel plant in Saint-Saulve and a rail plant in Hayange.

GFG also owns an aluminium site in Dunkirk.

In Britain, the group is also suffering from a drop in demand for certain steels from the aviation sector, which is in crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic.

jwp/csp/lth