Union talks of ‘white knight’

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Union talks of ‘white knight’

Union members opposing the sale of Kumho Tire to a Chinese company claimed Saturday that a large Korean company is interested in acquiring the troubled tire maker. But the claim could be a gimmick to postpone the submission of management turnaround plan scheduled for March 30.

Chung Song-gang, head of the Gokseong branch of the Kumho labor union, told other unionists in Gwangju on Saturday that an offer by Qingdao-based Doublestar should be rejected because “a healthy Korean company” expressed an intention to acquire Kumho Tire on the same terms as those discussed by Korea Development Bank, the company’s main creditor, and the Chinese tire maker.

“A renowned political figure confirmed it,” Chung said, “which can be an alternative to a sale to China’s Doublestar, which needless to say will only take the benefits, ditch Kumho and run away,” he said. The Korean company is large, in a related industry and is considering buying Kumho Tire either alone or partnering with other established firms in Gwangju and South Jeolla. He said he will disclose the company’s name in three days.

Speculation about the identity of the white knight company mounted quickly but Hyundai Motor and Kumho Petrochemical, two companies named as potential buyers, denied interest immediately. SK Group was also mentioned, but it walked away from an acquisition at the end of last year due to lack of agreement on the terms and worries about the tire maker’s militant union.

Union members have opposed the takeover by Doublestar, saying it simply wants to acquire Korea’s advanced tire technologies. Once it did, they say, it would shut down the company, leading to the loss of many jobs. The union wants a takeover by a Korean company.

Kumho Tire’s management did not confirm or deny the union’s claim. Its spokesman said a local bidder popping up is “unrealistic” now.

“Even if a new bidder has come up, it leads to the question of why Korea Development Bank did not try to find a local player more actively in the first place,” he said.

KDB said there was no bidder other than Doublestar when it announced it was in talks with the Chinese tire maker earlier this month.

Kumho Tire’s union has been asked by creditors to agree to a sale to Doublestar and a turnaround plan by March 30. If the union refuses to meet the deadline, the tire maker will have no choice but to go into court receivership.

BY SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun@joongang.co.kr]
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