Mittal fortune is based on complex loan deals

Ben Russell
Friday 08 March 2002 01:00 GMT

International business development loans worth hundreds of millions of pounds have helped the steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal build a web of manufacturing plants which straddles the globe.

A loan of £35m from the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) was crucial to seal the tycoon's deal to buy the Romanian Sidex steel plant at the centre of the Steelgate controversy which has dogged Tony Blair for more than a month.

The EBRD has also raised the prospect of a further loan of up to £200m to finance Mr Mittal's proposals to redevelop the former Soviet plant.

In 1997, a £315m package from the EBRD and the American-based International Finance Corporation (IFC) was assembled to help Mr Mittal's LNM Group redevelop the Karmet steel mill in Kazakhstan after privatisation by the former Soviet Republic.

The loans have helped Mr Mittal pursue a relentless policy of expansion and acquisition, based on a hugely successful formula of turning round ailing steel operations around the world. Details of a series of loans to parts of the Ispat empire are outlined in the IFC investment portfolio, published in June last year.

In 1998 and 1999, loans worth $25m (£18m) were approved to Ispat Karmet in Kazakhstan. Another $17.1m was arranged for Carribean Ispat in 1996. Loans of $30.4m are listed as arranged for Ispat Industries Limited between 1992 and 1997.

The 25-year growth of the company from its beginnings in the mid-1970s has created a hugely complicated web of companies and subsidiaries which has become the world's fourth largest steel producer, spanning four continents across the northern and southern hemispheres. Mr Mittal's business philosophy, outlined on the home page of the LNM Group website, promises: "Our over-riding philosophy is to create value by being the lowest cost producer of high-quality products in all our markets, and to aggressively pursue all growth opportunities."

He has succeeded. Mr Mittal's London-based LNM Group is at the apex of a huge network of companies. The LNM Group now controls two major Dutch-registered holding companies, LNM Holdings and Ispat International, which in turn run a network of 16 subsidiaries.

LNM Holdings controls Ispat Sidex in Romania, Ispat Karmet in Kazakhstan, Ispat Annaba in Algeria and PT Ispat Indo in Indonesia.

Ispat International controls a string of European operations in France, Germany, and Kent Wire in Britain. It also runs a shipping arm and a parallel string of American operations, spanning Canada and the US, where Ispat Inland is one of the biggest US steel producers, and Ispat Mexicana south of the border in Mexico.

Mr Mittal's growth has been largely based on the aggressive pursuit of former state-owned steelworks. In 1992 he bought Sibalsa, Mexico's third largest steel producer. Two years later, he bought Sidbec-Dosco, Canada's fourth largest producer.

The company's Kazakhstan operation, a major Soviet blast furnace steel plant, was bought from the former republic in 1995. This was followed by the purchase of Irish Ispat, the country's only steel producer, from the Irish Government.

The growth of the vast steel empire has turned Mr Mittal into Britain's richest Asian, with an estimated worth of £900m, but also led to warnings that just as his empire may flourish, it is vulnerable to collapse.

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