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Altis deal may face problems

The proposed sale of logic and memory group Altis Semiconductor could face a rocky passage through US regulators following claims that the company’s putative owner is ultimately a Russian defence group.


Altis’ owners, IBM and Infineon Technologies, originally said that they had agreed to sell the French joint venture to Zurich-based Advanced Electronic Systems (AES) in a deal valued at up to $700million and subject to regulatory approval in the EU and US. But German publication Kommersant claimed last week that AES is owned by the Rosoboronexport State Corporation, a leading Russian arms exporter.
Altis conducts some advanced research, particularly in areas such as mram, and this will come under scrutiny against US technology transfer regulations. However, if Rosoboronexport’s role is confirmed, a greater risk may be the recent cooling in the political relationship between east and west.
The climate worsened significantly last month when Russian president Vladimir Putin (pictured) announced the resumption of long range strategic bomber flights, once considered amongst the more sabre rattling aspects of the Cold War. The move has already led some US politicians to call for reciprocal economic action.
A senior Congressional aide expressed surprise at IBM’s decision to unveil the deal now, even though most Altis products have civilian markets and the company focuses on more mature nodes (copper processes between 0.25 and 0.13µm).
“At first look, the technology issues don’t look that awkward. But politically, if this Russian link really is there, the timing is egregious and it’s especially surprising for a company like IBM to miss that,” the aide said. “For anyone who wants to make a point, it’s an invitation to do so.”

Author
Paul Dempsey

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