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Fortum tightens grip on Uniper in leadership shakeout

FILE PHOTO: Andreas Schierenbeck, CEO of German energy utility company Uniper SE

DUESSELDORF (Reuters) – Finland’s Fortum has tightened its grip on German utility Uniper after a boardroom shake-up that sees changes to the chairman, CEO and chief financial officer.

In a sudden move on Monday, Uniper CEO Andreas Schierenbeck, who joined in 2019, was replaced by Supervisory Board Chairman Klaus-Dieter Maubach, confirming what sources told Reuters earlier.

Fortum boss Markus Rauramo is taking over as Uniper’s supervisory board chairman and Fortum executive Tiina Tuomela will replace Uniper Chief Financial Officer Sascha Bibert.

“This was a big bang. It has caused fresh uncertainty among employees,” Harald Seegatz, head of Uniper’s works council and deputy supervisory board chairman, told Reuters.

Uniper and Fortum shares fell as much as 3.3% and 2.4%, respectively, with UBS saying the move suggested “there may have been some deeper obstacles” in cooperation talks.

Finland’s largest utility holds a 76.1% stake in Uniper and has tried for years to it take over but has faced resistance as the German group is concerned it might be broken up.

The two seemed to come closer in December, outlining synergies and areas of cooperation, but Fortum on Monday signalled things were not moving fast enough.

“I believe we can and need to do more to deliver both the agreed and additional cooperation benefits and to create value for both companies and the whole Group,” Rauramo said.

Bernstein analysts said potential areas of disagreement included the possible divestment of Uniper’s Russian division or its gas mid-stream unit.

Spun off from E.ON in 2016, Uniper quickly caught the attention of Fortum, which was described as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” by former management.

Fortum said it would stick to its pledge of avoiding a domination agreement or squeeze-out with regard to Uniper until the end of 2021, adding no decisions had been taken beyond that.

Uniper owns hydroelectric assets in Sweden and holds stakes in nuclear power plants, including Oskarshamm, which it co-owns with Fortum.

(Reporting by Tom Kaeckenhoff and Christoph Steitz; editing by Louise Heavens and Jason Neely)

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