Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky aims to remain a “passive” and “minority” shareholder in French company Atos, his spokesperson said on Thursday, following concerns raised by some lawmakers over the independence of France’s nuclear deterrence.
Atos said this week it was in talks to sell its loss-making legacy business to Kretinsky in a 2 billion-euro ($2.20 billion) deal that will refocus the struggling IT consulting company on its cybersecurity and cloud assets, and cut its debt.
The deal would also give the billionaire a 7.5% stake in the remaining business, which would be renamed Eviden.
A group of lawmakers from the Les Republicains conservative party said in a column published in Thursday’s Le Figaro that the deal threatened to allow the French supercomputers, made by Atos and used for virtual nuclear tests, to fall into foreign hands.
“The possibility of seeing such a powerful foreign player get close to our ultra-sensitive military capacities deserves our attention,” the group of lawmakers led by senator Cedric Perrin of the Senate’s defence committee said.
Lawmakers cannot block a sale of a French company, only the government can if it considers there is a strategic reason for doing so.
“We won’t increase our shareholding (in Eviden) beyond the announced threshold, and we will play no active role of any kind, still less exercise control,” the spokesperson in France said in a statement sent to Reuters.
By contrast, Kretinsky wishes to be a long-term shareholder in Tech Foundations, Atos’s legacy IT operations, the spokesperson said.
While the lawmakers’ concerns were “legitimate”, they would prove to be unfounded, the spokesperson said.
“We fully understand the strategic importance of Eviden’s services for France, and we intend to fully respect national sovereignty in this area,” the spokesperson said.
The French finance ministry and Atos declined to comment.
Kretinsky, who made his fortune in the energy sector, is expanding his vast empire in Europe and has been on a buying spree in France, setting his eyes on assets ranging from French retailer Casino to Vivendi’s publishing group Editis.
Advertisement · Scroll to continue
“There’s historical precedent showing you’re a minority shareholder one day and majority shareholder the next. There’s a real risk to our sovereignty,” Perrin told Reuters.
A source with knowledge of the deal said Atos’s cybersecurity business also hosted other sensitive assets crucial to French intelligence interests.