BRATISLAVA Slovakia will seek a symbolic share or another form of involvement in the country's biggest steel works if United States Steel Corp (X.N) goes ahead with the sale of the firm to the Hesteel Group (000709.SZ) of China, Slovak Economy Minister Peter Ziga said on Thursday.
The minister told Reuters in an interview the deal was expected to be closed in coming weeks but refused to give details given that the state currently does not have any control over the privately-owned company or the sale negotiations.
Slovak and Austrian media have reported in past weeks the 1.4 billion euro ($1.52 billion) deal was imminent.
A spokesman for U.S. Steel Kosice declined to comment on Thursday.
"If the sale comes through we want to negotiate with the new owner, we want to get our foot in the door," the minister said.
"We are interested in signing an agreement or a memorandum with the new investor, I don't rule out buying a symbolic share in the company so that we are informed and have a say in talks about its strategic plans, issues regarding its workforce, investments, environment," he said.
Ziga said in May 2016, when rumors of the sale first arose, the government may seek to buy a stake to prevent its closure if it were a "non-standard owner".
Speaking to Reuters on Thursday, he made clear that did not apply to Hesteel, which had also bought a Serbian steel mill Zelezara Smederevo from the Serbian government in 2015.
But the state would still like to have at least some control over the company to ensure its almost 12,000 employees don't have to worry about their jobs, Ziga added.
U.S. Steel Kosice is the second biggest private employer in the country of 5.4 million people. It is based in the country's east where the unemployment rate is higher than the national average of 8.0 percent.
The U.S. company had considered a sale four years ago before the Slovak state offered annual incentives worth up to 15 million euros for 15 years.
In its latest available financial results, for the year of 2016, U.S. Steel Kosice raised its profit to 271 million euros last year from 43 million euros in 2015.
(Reporting By Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)