By Christoph Steitz
FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Uniper’s chairman on Sunday said talks with major shareholder Fortum to resolve a dispute between the two companies were on hold after two of the German utility’s board members resigned.
Fortum and Uniper have been at loggerheads since the Finnish state-owned utility tried to take over the German group in 2017, a deal that Uniper’s management opposed due to concerns it might get broken up.
Fortum, which has a 49.99% stake in Uniper, has claimed that Uniper’s board actively tried to block its planned takeover, which Uniper denies.
The resignation of Uniper’s Chief Operating Officer Eckhardt Ruemmler and Chief Commercial Officer Keith Martin came in response to Fortum’s move last week to postpone a shareholder vote to endorse Uniper’s management for the past two years.
“We must and want to work with our major shareholder in a trusting relationship. This trust has lost its foundation. Talks had been on a good path. In my view a major chance has been blown,” Uniper Supervisory Board Chairman Bernhard Reutersberg told Reuters.
He said that talks with Fortum were on hold for now.
“I expect a clear signal from Fortum on how they think talks can be continued in light of the current developments.”
Uniper said Ruemmler and Martin — which had led cooperation talks with Fortum since February — had asked the group’s chairman to terminate their contracts at the end of Nov. 30, 2019.
Russian regulators have barred Fortum from increasing its stake in Uniper because of a water-testing license owned by the German firm’s Russian business Unipro. Uniper has so far held on to the license, effectively blocking a takeover.
Reutersberg said that external and internal experts had found no evidence that Uniper management violated any laws in its dealings in Russia, adding there were no findings that support Fortum’s claims.
Fortum Chief Executive Pekka Lundmark said in a statement delaying the discharge vote on Uniper’s management had been a result of the lack of transparency on management conduct during and after the takeover bid, not a sign of mistrust in management as a whole.
He said it was now Fortum’s goal to establish a dialogue with Uniper’s incoming Chief Executive Andreas Schierenbeck and Chief Financial Officer Sascha Bibert, which will both start their jobs on June 1.
“We are confident that together we can make a joint vision reality,” Lundmark said.