* Lucchini’s board was looking at extraordinary administration
* Union says Klesch often interested, rarely acts
* Klesch ZALCO aluminium plant bankrupt; Voerde insolvent
By Silvia Antonioli and Harpreet Bhal
LONDON, Oct 29 (Reuters) - Swiss industrial group Klesch said on Monday it has expressed interest in acquiring debt-burdened Italian steel producer Lucchini but Italy’s biggest trade union voiced doubt that the purchase would take place.
The Italian company agreed with shareholders and creditor banks in December last year to restructure its 720 million euro ($917 million) debt pile, paving the way for a sale to a third party.
“I can confirm the expressed interest (in Lucchini) but that is all I can comment on at the moment,” a spokeswoman for Klesch said.
A spokesman for Lucchini, a company owned by Russia’s Severstal and Severstal’s owner, Russian businessman Alexei Mordashov, declined to comment due to the sensitivity of the issue.
A sale of Lucchini has proved extremely difficult in the context of falling steel prices and economic recession.
Its board had been looking at options such as Italy’s extraordinary administration procedures or a deal with creditors to avoid bankruptcy until Klesch expressed interest, a trade union official said.
“We are very puzzled about Klesch’s non-binding expression of interest which has suspended decisions regarding a possible extraordinary administration,” Gianni Venturi, the national coordinator for steel at Italian union CGIL FIOM, told Reuters.
“We are not sure how concrete Klesch’s interest is as the company is known for being very active in expressing interest but less active in taking concrete steps,” Venturi said.
The interest voiced by Klesch in Lucchini follows news last month that the Geneva-based private firm was looking to buy an Italian aluminium smelter in Sardinia that is being closed by Alcoa.
Lucchini employs between 3,500 and 4,000 people, directly and indirectly, at its plants in Piombino, Trieste and Lecco, Venturi added.
Klesch sold parts of its bankrupt Dutch aluminium smelter ZALCO, owned by its subsidiary BaseMet, in June. Its Voerde smelter in Germany is also searching for a buyer after declaring insolvency in September.