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Semiconductor veteran confirms he's part of a £300 million plan to buy the UK’s largest chip plant back off China

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Key Points
  • Nexperia, owned by Shanghai-based Wingtech Technologies, announced it was acquiring the Wales-based Newport Wafer Fab at the start of July for £63 million ($87 million).
  • However, the U.K. government is currently reviewing the deal on national security grounds, and there's a possibility that it could be unwound.
  • Now, a consortium is interested in buying the country's largest chip plant back off Nexperia.
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Semiconductor veteran Ron Black, the former CEO of the U.K.'s Imagination Technologies which used to design chips for Apple, is among a consortium that is interested in buying the country's largest chip plant back off Chinese-owned Nexperia.

The consortium's existence was revealed by CNBC at the end of last month but it was unclear who was involved.

Nexperia, owned by Shanghai-based Wingtech Technologies, announced it was acquiring the Wales-based Newport Wafer Fab at the start of July for £63 million ($87 million).

However, the U.K. government is currently reviewing the deal on national security grounds, and there's a possibility that it could be unwound.

Black, who led U.S.-listed semiconductor firm Rambus for six years before moving to Imagination Technologies, told CNBC on Tuesday that his consortium could step in and take over Newport Wafer Fab if the deal is blocked, adding that it has £300 million to invest in the facility.

He said the consortium includes three semiconductor businesses and three financial sponsors, but he declined to specify who they are.

"We're not making a competing bid," Black said. "The deal has already been closed. Whether it remains closed, that's the question that everybody wonders."

He said the consortium is yet to even meet with Nexperia or Newport Wafer Fab to discuss a potential deal. "There's no need to make any offer today until we know what's going on," Black explained, adding that the group wants to be seen as a "white knight" as opposed to an antagonist.

U.K. Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng initially approved the transaction but U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered national security advisor Stephen Lovegrove to review it after some lawmakers said the takeover raised national security concerns given the growing geopolitical importance of the semiconductor industry.

An official verdict on the deal is expected to be announced in the coming weeks.

Nexperia and Newport Wafer Fab did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment.

Chinese semiconductor takeovers

After two decades in the semiconductor industry, Black took over as CEO of Imagination Technologies in 2018.

Imagination was acquired by Beijing-headquartered Canyon Bridge in 2017 for £550 million after Apple said it was going to stop using the company's chip technology in its products.

Canyon Bridge, a state-owned equity fund, attempted to make a boardroom takeover following the acquisition, which led Black and two of his C-level executives to resign in protest last year.

"I will not be part of a company that is effectively controlled by the Chinese government," Black said in a resignation letter, according to the BBC.

Black is currently located in Maine but he said he'd be willing to return to the U.K. if his consortium does buy Newport Wafer Fab.

"I don't know what role I would have," he said. "I'm not necessarily saying that I'm going to run this."