Hopes for UK steel as Liberty owner enters talks with US lender

The owner of Liberty Steel is in talks with the US lender White Oak Global Advisors over a refinancing deal that could help end months of stop-start operations at UK steel plants.

GFG, the metals group run by the industrialist Sanjeev Gupta, has been looking for fresh finance since early March, when its key lender, Greensill Capital, collapsed into administration.

Securing a new lender is one of Gupta’s key aims as he tries to keep his metals empire afloat amid a criminal investigation and drawn-out legal disputes with Greensill’s backers. The loose collection of GFG-owned companies employs about 35,000 people, including 3,000 steelworkers in the UK.

GFG’s financial troubles have cast a shadow over the Liberty Steel plants in the UK, which have been operating intermittently for months in an effort to eke out the money needed for day-to-day operations such as buying raw materials for processing.

San Francisco-based White Oak has already stepped in to lend to GFG’s steel and coal operations in South Australia. That deal was agreed in May.

The US lender was previously in talks with Gupta over a loan potentially worth £200m for Liberty Steel UK, but initially said it would walk away from the deal after the Serious Fraud Office announced an investigation into suspected fraud and money laundering at GFG companies. The investigation has not finished, although GFG has denied any wrongdoing and has said it would work with investigators.

Two sources confirmed that talks on refinancing GFG’s European operations, first reported by the Financial Times, were continuing. One person said GFG was in the middle of several conversations over refinancing.

White Oak is led by Andre Hakkak, a former investment banker and asset manager who co-founded the company in 2007 along with a former executive at KKR, a large US private equity firm.

White Oak specialises in asset-backed lending that would have typically been carried out by banks in the past. Private finance firms typically charge much higher interest than banks to compensate for higher risk.

Both GFG and White Oak declined to comment.

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