China’s Ant Financial Pushes U.S. to Approve MoneyGram Deal

  • Security concerns linger as Ant said to be refiling request
  • Trump’s blocking of chipmaker’s sale hangs over China deals

A MoneyGram store in Athens.

Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Ant Financial is expected to make a third try for U.S. approval of its takeover of MoneyGram International Inc. as a secretive national security panel throws up hurdles for Chinese investors seeking to buy American companies.

The former affiliate of Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. is preparing to resubmit the $1.2 billion deal for review before the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment, or CFIUS, said people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because the process isn’t public.

The preparations underscore the trouble Chinese buyers face in persuading the panel that investigates foreign acquisitions to greenlight takeovers. President Trump this week killed a Chinese investment fund’s purchase of Lattice Semiconductor Corp., which went before CFIUS three times without winning approval. The panel is now considering at least two other major deals involving Chinese acquirers.

Ant failed to win security clearance from CFIUS for its MoneyGram deal announced in January after an initial 75-day review period. It resubmitted its request and now faces the expiration of a second 75-day period for consideration.

“We are not commenting on the CFIUS process, but we are continuing to work with the various regulatory agencies and remain focused on closing the transaction by the end of the year,” Ant said Friday in an emailed statement.

A representative for MoneyGram declined to comment. CFIUS reviews are confidential and the panel doesn’t confirm or comment on its work.

North Korea

The prolonged review comes amid heightened political tensions. The Trump administration has upheld a hard line against Chinese takeovers of American businesses, even as it seeks China’s aid to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis.

MoneyGram shares fell 1.2 percent to $15.92 in New York trading Friday.

Ant is a behemoth in China, providing services from wealth management and insurance to credit checks and consumer loans.

Two members of the House of Representatives have urged CFIUS to conduct a “full and thorough” investigation of the deal, arguing it could give China access to critical U.S. financial infrastructure. In addition to collecting and retaining confidential information from customers, wire transfer services such as MoneyGram handle confidential requests from the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network about transactions that may be linked to terrorism or money laundering.

Dallas Headquarters

Ant has disputed assertions that U.S. security would be compromised, citing its plans to keep MoneyGram’s headquarters, management team and employees in Dallas. The company said MoneyGram’s servers -- and the data stored -- would also remain in the U.S.

It’s rare for CFIUS recommendations to halt a deal to make it to the president because companies typically walk away from a transaction to avoid being branded a national security threat.

Before Trump, presidents had blocked only three deals because of national security concerns. President George H.W. Bush stopped a Chinese acquisition of MAMCO Manufacturing Inc., an aircraft-parts maker. President Barack Obama blocked Chinese-owned Ralls Corp. in 2012 from developing a wind farm near a Navy base in Oregon and in 2016 upheld a CFIUS recommendation to bar a Chinese company from buying semiconductor equipment supplier Aixtron SE.

Semiconductors, Scaramucci

Trump’s decision to stop Canyon Bridge Capital Partners LLC, a private equity firm backed by a Chinese state-owned asset manager, from buying Lattice was based on a CFIUS recommendation.

There are at least three other deals under CFIUS review now that may wind up on the president’s desk. They include an agreement by Chinese conglomerate HNA Group Co. to buy a stake in SkyBridge Capital LLC, the fund-management firm founded by Anthony Scaramucci, who was briefly Trump’s White House communications director.

Genworth Financial Inc.’s $2.7 billion sale to China Oceanwide Holdings Group Co. is under review by CFIUS.

Chipmaker Broadcom, which has headquarters in Singapore as well as San Jose, California, is also seeking approval to buy Brocade Communications Systems Inc., a supplier of semiconductors that connect phones and tablets to Wi-Fi networks.

— With assistance by David McLaughlin

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