U.K. business secretary Andrea Leadsom ordered an investigation of the takeover of defense company Cobham by Advent International, a Boston-based private equity firm, two days after shareholders approved the deal. Leadsom issued a European intervention notice and called for the Competition and Markets Authority to produce a report by October 29.
The move could delay or block the $5 billion deal.
Cobham’s work supports advanced military technology, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Eurofighter Typhoon, and EA-18G Growler, and could require a full government inquiry to assess the national security impact.
“The CMA will now prepare a report on the national security aspects of the proposed transaction,” the Business Department said. “This is a statutory process to ensure national security implications of a proposed sale are fully assessed.”
On Monday, Cobham shareholders voted to approve the sale at a general meeting with 93% voting in favor, but family members of the company’s founder, Sir Alan Cobham, have opposed the transaction citing national security.
“It would be a national disgrace if this deal is allowed to sail through without any government intervention,” Lady Cobham, the daughter-in-law of Sir Alan said.
“The government is trading away Britain’s future prosperity and security by failing to protect our defense manufacturing capability.”
Advent said only 5% of Cobham’s revenue comes from the Ministry of Defense, while 52% of group revenue comes from the United States.
“Being owned by a U.S. buyer will open up a lot of opportunities for Cobham. There are parts of the U.S. market — particularly around classified business — which the company would not have been able to compete for under U.K. ownership,” a spokesperson for Advent said.
Cobham chief executive David Lockwood said he has held discussions with government officials over the takeover, but he declined to elaborate. He said some Cobham units have special security agreements that allow them to bid for U.S. defense contracts, but the acquisition by Advent would streamline requirements and improve efficiency.
The public comment period closes October 1.
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