German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has stepped into a dispute over the planned sale of naval shipbuilder Howaldtswerke Deutsche Werft to private equity firm One Equity Partners, denying a report that he had acquiesced to a deal that could indirectly open the way to sales of German submarine technology to Taiwan. The government's reaction comes in the wake of the European Union competition authority's decision last week to clear One Equity Partners' acquisition of a 75% stake in Kiel-based HDW from German engineering group Babcock-Borsig AG and steel-maker giant Preussag AG for an estimated €700 million to €800 million ($653 million to $747 million).
Schröder made the denial in response to an article in the Monday, June 3, edition of Handelsblatt newspaper that claimed HDW CEO Klaus Lederer had come to the chancellor's office to explain that the submarine-maker's sale to Bank One-backed One Equity Partners was meant to clear the way for a U.S. sale of eight non-nuclear submarines to Taipei. Citing "government circles," the newspaper said the chancellor's office had raised no objections, which would allow President Bush to fulfill a pledge to safeguard the island's security, whatever the cost.
U.S. defense contractors have built only nuclear-powered submarines for a generation, the newspaper reported, and would be eager to get hold of HDW's global lead in sensitive fuel-cell technology, which drives Germany's silent and near-undetectable U 31 submarines. Government spokesman denied there had been any talks in the chancellor's office, repeating the government's long-standing opposition to sales of sensitive technology to Taiwan.