FIRB skeptical on Chinese gas pipelines?

Via Chanticleer today comes Michael Thawley weighing into the CK Group acquisition of APA, Australia’s gas pipeline monopoly:

FIRB has no doubt received the same anonymous documents sent to Chanticleer pointing out the fact that one of Hong Kong’s power utilities, HKEI, is one-third owned by CK Group and one-fifth by State Grid.

…”You might not have had to worry so much a few years back,” [Thawley] says. “But I think if you read what the Chinese government is saying about the future management of Hong Kong, and Taiwan for that matter, one has to be careful that governments make a very careful assessment of the pros and cons of these transactions.

“The other question we should ask ourselves is: what would be China’s response if a US or Australian company wanted to own a piece of critical infrastructure in China?

They don’t any bigger than Thawley, former Ambassador to the US, diplomatic titan, Howard advisor and Secretary of PM&C.

It is not a good sign for the deal.

Comments

    • Then theres the “Remember Enron California” playbook.
      A sudden maintenance problem is discovered by your workers, which led to shutdown of California Power stations, and import at a much higher price from the rest of the USA.
      Control of critical infrastructure gives implicit or actual leverage, if inclined.

      • Pretty much always the end game of privatising essential services. Why would you buy it other than to gouge for maximum profit.

    • The government could require real estate agents to report suspicious real estate purchases by foreign buyers as part of efforts to strengthen anti-money laundering protections.

      Parliament’s joint public accounts and audit committee is considering deficiencies in data on the federal government’s crackdown on foreign property buyers.

      On Wednesday Australian Taxation Office officials said they had conducted 4600 investigations into potential breaches of the rules on property ownership since 2015, identifying more than 1500 breaches.

      Fines for foreign ownership of property in Australia have totalled more than $7 million.

      Foreign investors are required to gain approval before buying real estate in Australia, with residential rules banning the purchase of existing properties but not new builds.

      ATO deputy commissioner Mark Konza told the committee formal disposal orders had been issued for 75 properties since 2015, worth a combined $135 million.

      A further 156 properties around Australia have been sold in voluntary disposals by foreign investors, worth a combined $150 million.

      The Australian National Audit Office found in June the crackdown, first announced by the Turnbull government in the 2015-16 budget, was still only “becoming effective” and the ATO faced considerable challenges in getting reliable data because of delays in collecting information by the states and territories.

      Report suspicions
      Mr Konza said the ATO was beefing up data matching techniques to improve strike rates in compliance within the foreign investor market.

      Labor MP Julian Hill said real estate agents remained “cowboys” in Australia’s anti-money laundering regime, and were not required to report suspicions of possible breaches.

      “The obligation falls on the purchaser, and [agents] owe professional obligations to their client to ensure that they don’t lead their client into breaking the law,” Mr Konza said.

      Treasury’s principal adviser on foreign investment, Jessica Robinson, said penalties existed for intermediaries found to have facilitated breaches of the real estate rules.

      “That is a specific component that was introduced in the 2015 reforms, to strengthen the regulation of real estate investment,” she said.

      Mr Hill asked if new mandatory reporting rules were needed to help crack down on suspicious activity involving foreign buyers.

      High-profile breaches
      Ms Robinson agreed under current rules agents were required to stop participation in any potential breach but not to make reports to authorities.

      “I think that’s something that we could potentially look into,” she said.

      “I think there are other agencies looking through the anti-money laundering regime, those types of obligations.

      “We can take that on.”

      The ATO took over responsibility for tracking foreign residential ownership from Treasury in 2015.

      Among high-profile breaches of the rules was the $39 million Point Piper home, Villa Del Mare, owned by Chinese billionaire Xu Jiayin. It was subsequently disposed to an Australian citizen, Lola Wang Li.

      Former treasurer Joe Hockey reported his neighbour, Chinese businessman Sam Guo, who owned a house in the Sydney suburb of Hunters Hill.

      Foreign Investment Review Board figures show proposed Chinese investment in Australian real estate has halved to $15.2 billion as domestic capital controls and increased taxes lower demand overseas.

  1. Philly SlimMEMBER

    CK Group is Li Ka-shing – one of the world’s richest men and savviest business people.

    I always read the diversification of CK Group away from Hong Kong assets as a long term play to protect their wealth. CK wants to own APA because it isn’t in HK. I am sure Li can see the day when State Grid just buys him out (maybe hostile) of his holdings in Hong Kong electric – then he keeps the overseas assets.

  2. I haven’t seen any comment on it, but under the Australia – Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement, which includes Investor State Relations clauses. Now if the Australian Government, heaven forbid, at some time decided to reign in monopoly profits by APA, they may find themselves in international arbitration and ordered to pay compensation to CK Group. Not happy about the sale of sovereignty over critical infrastructure here.

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