Offbeat 176 million euro business stopped: HGK deal for Duisburg shipping company before failure

19:30  29 june  2020
19:30  29 june  2020 Source:   ksta.de

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Gelände der Hafen- und Güterverkehrsgesellschaft HGK im Kölner Stadtteil Godorf. © HGK HGK port and freight transport company premises in Cologne's Godorf district.

The purchase of the Duisburg shipping company Imperial Logistics International is intended to make the port and freight transport company HGK the largest European company for inland navigation. Although the Cologne city council and the Rhein-Erft district, which also participates in the HGK, have already given their approval, the 176 million euro business threatens to burst at the last second. The approval of the district government of Cologne is still missing, which is said to have already given the green light, but has now been stopped by the North Rhine-Westphalian Ministry for Homeland, Local Affairs, Building and Equal Opportunities as the supreme local authority.

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period already expires today

The problem is that the purchase process must be completed by June 30, because then the South African seller's financial year ends and the deal must have been concluded by then. Otherwise, the business believed to be safe would fail. The ministry headed by Ina Scharrenbach (CDU) requested further documents from the district government last Friday, according to the "Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger". Since these have not yet arrived in Düsseldorf and have not been checked, the public service procedure cannot be completed by June 30. According to the Ministry, a purchase raises difficult legal questions.

Above all, the so-called local etching should be unresolved, i.e. the question of when an activity outside of the municipal area is permitted. There is, for example, no information on how many customers of the Imperial Logistics International shipping company from Cologne and the Rhein-Erft district handle how many goods and how much of the cargo is handled by the ports operated by the HGK. This information should also not be included in an expert opinion on the proposed purchase, which was written by a major law firm in Bonn.

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Intervention by the ministry is an "unusual process"

"The matter is currently in an ongoing administrative procedure, on which we are not currently taking any position", the ministry said on Monday on request. On June 23 and 25, four files had arrived in the state capital. "So far, only a first - in view of the scope and complexity of the process, which is necessarily cursive - local economic law review of the process could be carried out," the ministry continues. The city of Cologne and the district government did not want to comment on Monday's examination of the ministry. The HGK was also cautious. "We are waiting for the district government's decision," said a spokesman.

As can be heard from Cologne City Hall, the ministry's interference is perceived as an “unusual process”. It is customary for such transactions that the resolutions and contracts are subject to the approval of the local authority. What is unusual, however, is that the district government wants to give its approval and is then prevented by the ministry shortly before the deal is closed.

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Political dispute over the purchase

Whether political influence plays a role in this is unclear. While the SPD, CDU and Greens voted in the Cologne City Council for the purchase of the shipping company by the HGK, Linke and the FDP, which together with the CDU form the government coalition in the state parliament, rejected the request. "From a regulatory point of view, it cannot be the task of a subsidiary of the Cologne municipal utility company to be the largest inland boat operator on the Rhine," said Ralph Sterck, head of the FDP parliamentary group.

The left renewed its criticism of the plans on Monday. “Municipal companies have to provide services for the residents of their region. A wide-ranging, huge shipping network is not part of it, ”said Left Group leader Jörg Detjen.

The supporters of the SPD, CDU and Greens, on the other hand, assume that the HGK can almost double their future annual profit to ten million euros and more.

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