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Alcatel’s takeover of Lucent got the blessing on Wednesday of New York Senator Chuck Schumer, who led the congressional charge last month against Dubai Ports World’s takevoer of five US container terminals.
Mr Schumer, an influential Democrat on the banking committee who voted for legislation to toughen national security reviews of foreign takeovers, said he was encouraged by the companies’ handling of the deal and by Lucent chief executive Patricia Russo, who he met late on Tuesday.
“I told her I’m going to support it,” Mr Schumer said at a breakfast meeting with reporters on Wednesday.
Although Mr Schumer and other members of Congress do not have a formal role in the vetting process, the unravelling of Dubai’s deal, and a failed attempt by Cnooc, a Chinese oil company, to take over US-based Unocal last year because of pressure in Washington, have proven Congress has a de facto veto on any sensitive transaction.
His support of the deal also reflects how Wall Street is growing increasingly concerned about the signal the US is sending to foreign investors following the Dubai controversy. Mr Schumer, who has close relationships with many bankers, said he had been getting calls from the business community asking him his position on the deal. Mr Schumer said fears about a chill in foreign investment would be assuaged when business groups realised the Dubai row was an exception. “That is not to say we aren’t going to need national security [reviews to be tougher],” he said.
Alcatel’s takeover of Lucent still faces a review of up to 75 days by the interagency committee that investigates foreign deals on national security grounds, or Cfius. Mr Schumer, who argued that the Bush administration had not investigated the DP World takeover thoroughly enough, said his discussion with Ms Russo helped mitigate concerns he had over Lucent’s Bell Labs.
The iconic research facility has a close relationship with US defence and intelligence agencies and the prospect of it falling in French hands has raised some eyebrows on Capitol Hill.
“A thousand people work there - 85 per cent of what they do is related to switch research - only a small amount is [defence related],” Mr Schumer said.
His positive assessment of the deal underscores the proactive strategy the companies have taken to mitigate potential hurdles to the deal’s approval.
The merging companies said that they would create a separate US entity to protect Lucent’s classified work that would be overseen by three former Clinton defence and intelligence officials.