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Thales to sell 50% stake in Samsung joint venture

Thales, Europe’s biggest defense electronics company, plans to sell its 50 percent stake in Samsung Thales to the company’s new owner Hanwha Group, multiple sources said Monday.

“An official announcement is imminent as their talks are being finalized,” said a source familiar with the matter.

“Thales considers Hanwha less attractive as a partner. For the same reason, Total is also looking to sell its stake in its joint venture with Samsung.”

Samsung Thales is a 50-50 joint venture between Samsung and Thales established in 2001. It has engaged in the design and development of digital defense technologies and systems.

The alleged sell-off plan comes after Samsung announced in November it would sell four chemical and defense units to Hanwha, a South Korean family-run conglomerate, in a deal estimated at 1.9 trillion won ($1.72 billion).

Samsung said it would sell a 32.4 percent stake in Samsung Techwin for 840 billion won, as well as a 57.6 percent stake in Samsung General Chemicals for 1.06 trillion won. The deal is scheduled to be completed within the half of this year.

Two other affiliates, Samsung Thales and Samsung Total Petrochemicals, were automatically included in the sale-acquisition deal since they are half-owned by the companies being sold to Hanwha.

With the acquisition, Hanwha, whose main businesses include defense and solar power, is expected to become the No. 1 player in the industries in Korea. But Thales and Total, both from France, do not appear to be happy with the new business partner.

“Thales and Total have taken advantage of Samsung’s negotiation power in the region, while enjoying generous dividends from the ventures,” said another source on condition of anonymity.

“But Hanwha is little known outside Korea, except for some presence in the Middle East,” he said, adding that Thales will continue its Korean business through its regional unit.

Another source said the Thales management was also greatly disappointed with Samsung’s surprise announcement of the Hanwha deal.

“A Thales executive from the French headquarters said they were informed about the deal one day before the official announcement in Seoul,” he said.

Following the departure of foreign partners, industry watchers predict that Hanwha could experience financial pressure when its resources are already tight from funding the Samsung deal.

“But in the longer term, the financial burden would be relieved considering the generous dividends that have been offered to the foreign shareholders,” said a market analyst who wished to be unnamed due to the sensitivity of the issue.

As part of its renewed commitment to its core defense business, Hanwha had proposed the buyout of Samsung Techwin last year. As the company owned stakes in Samsung General Chemicals, it allegedly agreed to a package deal.

With the acquisition, Hanwha is expected to see 2.6 trillion won in defense sales, up from the current 1 trillion won, while its chemical sales will surge to 18 trillion won, according to industry estimates.

By Lee Ji-yoon (