Germans accused of toppling Lancer: Banks criticised for strong-arm tactics over subsidiary's ownership Lack of cross-border agreement exposed

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The Independent Online
SIR NEVILLE Bowman- Shaw, chairman of the collapsed Lancer Boss forklift truck maker, yesterday accused the German banks of strong- arm tactics in an attempt to force its Bavarian subsidiary back into German ownership.

Lancer Boss, one of Britain's largest private companies and the last UK-owned manufacturer of forklift trucks, was put into receivership on Friday evening following the appointment of an administrator at the Steinbock subsidiary in Moosburg, Bavaria.

Sir Neville said that the administration order had followed a meeting on Thursday evening at the Hamburg headquarters of Jungheinrich, the world's third-biggest forklift truck maker, at which he had expected to discuss an offer for the entire group.

There he met managers from the German group, and from Steinbock's Bavarian banks. 'I was advised by Steinbock's bankers that its staff's salary cheques would not be released, even though the company was operating within its facilities,' he said.

'I was told that if we sold the subsidiary to Jungheinrich for a nominal figure, it (Jungheinrich) would issue a guarantee that would enable the banks to release the funds. I could not do that, and the next morning Steinbock's managers requested an administrator.'

Allan Griffiths of Grant Thornton, the British receiver, said the close integration of the German and UK operations meant that Lancer Boss had no alternative but to call in a receiver to protect the UK factories' interests.

The plants at Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, and Moosburg are dependent on each other for supplies. Mr Griffiths said he made 19 redundancies yesterday and would not rule out further cuts in the 770-strong UK workforce.

He said he was trying to contact the administrator in Moosburg. 'It is an extremely unusual circumstance. I am used to making decisions for the whole company. We do not even know if the German factory is producing.'

He said he had been talking to two groups over the weekend who were interested in buying the whole group. 'If we had control of the whole group we could sell it quite quickly.'

Lancer Boss is owned by Sir Neville and his brother Trevor. It has emerged that they had been in detailed negotiation with a number of groups with a view to selling a majority stake in the company they founded in 1957 and which turned over pounds 160m last year.

One set of discussions involved a possible management buy-in by a British team, one was with Jungheinrich, and two were 'international solutions' with Japanese involvement. It is understood that Jungheinrich's bid had been topped by at least two of the other groups.

Though Lancer Boss had been trading profitably through the recession, substantial losses were expected this year because of problems in the small Spanish subsidiary. Sir Neville, who is 63, believed the group needed funds to continue its investment programme.

He said the British banking consortium, led by National Westminster, had been excellent. 'They did their utmost to support us.'

In a statement, the Jungheinrich board expressed 'astonishment that despite a full awareness of the alternative proposals, the English company has chosen to call in the receivers at Steinbock'.

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