Sanjeev Gupta's Liberty snaps up French steel plants

Stategic plant that makes rail for French train network bought by Liberty after Jingye, the Chinese owner of British Steel, was snubbed

Metals tycoon Sanjeev Gupta is snapping up a former British Steel plant in France after it was left out of a previous rescue deal.

Mr Gupta's conglomerate Liberty Steel has been given permission by Paris to buy the Hayange factory, which was part of British Steel when the business collapsed into insolvency last year.

British Steel was bankrolled by the taxpayer to the tune of £1m a day before the bulk of it was purchased by Chinese company Jingye in the spring.

However, the French authorities refused to allow a Chinese buyer to take control of Hayange because it is a strategically important facility and a key supplier of the nation's train network.

They have now allowed British billionaire Mr Gupta to buy the operation instead. Liberty was also in the running for the main British Steel business before losing out to Jingye.

The deal is a coup for the 49-year-old entrepreneur. The Hayange site in north east France was seen as the crown jewel of British Steel and was one of its most profitable operations. 

A French court rejected Jingye’s bid for Hayange, which produces more than 300,000 tonnes of rail parts annually and has 470 staff, in July due to concerns about Chinese companies taking on nationally important assets.

Entrepreneur Sanjeev Gupta has continued his internal, mulit-billion spending spree

Liberty is also buying the Ascoval steelworks in Saint-Saulve in northern France from turnaround fund Greybull, which owned British Steel when it collapsed. Ascoval was separate from the British Steel business, meaning the fund founded by the French Meyohas brothers retained control of it despite the larger operation’s implosion.

Ascoval has the capacity to produce 600,000 tonnes of steel annually from recycled scrap and its output is used to supply Hayange.

Liberty refused to say how much it will pay for the plants, or how the business is funding the purchase, though it is understood part of the money will come from debt. The deal includes a €65m (£58.5m) cash injection into the facilities.

Mr Gupta said the deal was a landmark moment for the two plants after long-running uncertainty.

He added: “We have been interested in both of these sites for many years and have always believed that their futures were interlinked.”

Liberty has been a rare bright spot in the UK's once-mighty steel industry. Mr Gupta has been on a multi-billion-pound spending spree over the last few years, buying distressed industrial assets around the world, and is now one of the biggest players outside China.

His ability to make previously struggling assets work has sparked questions over his empire's finances, but Mr Gupta has repeatedly dismissed these concerns as “ridiculous”.

The tycoon announced a consolidation of the disparate businesses in October, with a pledge to produce a single set of accounts the following summer that he said would silence critics.

These have yet to have been produced, with the pandemic blamed for the delay.