- Denmark makes 2013 bid process papers available on Dong deal
- Finance committee chairman says Goldman's offer was the best
Danish lawmakers said a dispute that has dragged on for more than a year over Goldman Sachs’s purchase of state assets was finally put to rest on Thursday after a parliament committee was given access to secret documents over the bidding process.
“I now consider the case closed on behalf of the finance committee,” Benny Engelbrecht, a lawmaker for the opposition Social Democrats and deputy chairman of the parliament’s finance committee, said in an interview in Copenhagen.
The controversy arose after a group of lawmakers appointed to oversee the sale of part of state utility Dong Energy complained they weren’t given full access to the relevant documents. Goldman paid about $1.5 billion in 2014 for an 18 percent stake in Dong. Danish pension funds ATP and PFA also invested in the utility as part of the same deal.
The agreement caused the former Social Democrat-led coalition to rupture, with a junior member, the Socialist People’s Party, quitting in protest. The administration was ousted in June elections, paving the way for a Liberal government led by Lars Løkke Rasmussen.
Finance Minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen said earlier this month he was granting access to the documents after his predecessor, Bjarne Corydon, said they were too sensitive to share with the full finance committee. Lawmakers lashed out at Corydon, arguing they couldn’t be sure Dong was sold to the highest bidders without seeing all the paperwork.
A former Social Democrat prime minister, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, added to the tension by questioning the transaction price and criticizing the government’s decision to sell to a Wall Street bank he said was tainted by the financial crisis.
Even after seeing the documents, the opposition Red-Green Alliance said it harbored suspicions Dong had been sold at too low a price.
“If the finance minister thinks the case has been closed, he should think again,” Pelle Dragsted, spokesman for the Red-Green Alliance, said in an e-mailed comment.
But lawmakers’ inspection of the documents on Thursday showed the skepticism was unwarranted, said Engelbrecht, who represents the largest opposition party.
“The information which the finance minister provided today confirms what we’ve said in the past,” he said. “Denmark got the best possible deal and took the only offer that met the target for selling a stake of Dong.”
Rene Christensen, a lawmaker for the Danish People’s Party which lobbied to have the bidding documents released, said Frederiksen’s decision to do so means “confidence between the finance minister and the committee has been restored.” The fact that the material was in English, not Danish, presents a hurdle to understanding the details and Christensen said he still has “quite a few follow-up questions.”
The finance ministry said Goldman, ATP and PFA were the only bidders remaining in the final round. A total of six potential buyers had expressed interest in the first round, the ministry said.
Goldman “made the best offer,” Ole Birk Olesen, head of the parliament’s finance committee and a member of the Liberal Alliance party that supports the government, said on Thursday.
Goldman has hired Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a Danish prime minister from 2001 to 2009 and former NATO head, to guide it through the political hurdles that emerged after it bought its stake in Dong.
The government said it made an exception in the case of Goldman’s investment in Dong and won’t necessarily grant similar access to confidential documents on bids in the future.
“It would be a shame to make this standard protocol for the future,” Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, a spokesman for the ruling Liberal Party, said earlier this month. “That would likely keep bidders away and then we may not get the best bids in the future.”