Australia approves $880 million sale of engineering firm to Chinese construction giant

CANBERRA, Australia – The Australian government on Wednesday approved the sale of one of the nation’s largest construction companies, John Holland Group Pty. Ltd., to state-owned giant China Communications Construction Company International Holding Ltd.

Treasurer Joe Hockey said he approved the sale under foreign investment rules because it was in Australia’s national interests.

Leighton Holdings Ltd. entered a binding agreement with CCCC, the world’s fourth-largest construction company by revenue, in December to sell John Holland for approximately 1.15 billion Australian dollars ($880 million), subject to adjustments.

The deal required approval of the Foreign Investment Review Board, or FIRB, that ensures that such foreign takeovers are in Australia’s interests.

“The government welcomes foreign investment where it is not contrary to our national interest,” Hockey said in a statement.

Hockey said he had sought advice on issues including the World Bank debarring CCCC from contracts until 2017 over fraudulent practices used in a road-building project in the Philippines in 2009.

“As a result, appropriate arrangements have been put in place to mitigate any concerns in relation to this issue and I am satisfied that this investment is not contrary to our national interest,” Hockey said, without elaborating.

CCCC is listed on the Hong Kong and Shanghai stock exchanges and has a presence in more than 80 countries.

CCCC was surprised by how long the approval process took, having told the Hong Kong stock exchange that the deal would be finalized by the end of March.

Among issues that the FIRB had considered before approving the deal were John Holland’s contracts with Australia’s Defence Department.

John Holland has more than 5,600 employees in eight countries.