Blocked by the British government from acquiring Newport Wafer Fab — Britain’s largest chip factory — Nexperia has solicited the help of US law firm Akin Gump in the hopes of overturning the ban.
The hire comes just weeks after the UK secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy Grant Shapps unwound the deal on national security grounds. Nexperia is a Netherlands-based company that was acquired in 2018 by China-based Wingtech Technology. It’s that Chinese connection and potential future use of the site that has His Majesty’s government up in arms.
Nexperia’s acquisition of the Newport Wafer Fab in 2021 for £63 million ($76 million) drew the attention of many within the British government — including then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson — who expressed national security concerns and called for a probe. But, as we previously reported, the investigation amounted to nothing.
That didn’t stop the UK government from intervening in the sale. A later assessment under the National Security and Investment Act concluded with Shapps ordering Nexperia to sell at least 86 percent of its stake in the Newport facility in Wales.
The business secretary said he was concerned that the Newport fab, which chiefly makes power chips using older process nodes, could be upgraded to produce moderately more complex and capable components, such as those involving compound semiconductor materials like gallium nitride. The factory typically manufactures 32,000 silicon wafers of chips a month.
The decision drew condemnation from Nexperia execs who expressed frustration that the deal was killed after passing “two previous security reviews,” and pledged to challenge the order and “do everything possible to keep the factory and protect its employees in South Wales.”
Akin Gump, a law firm well known for representing US politicians in high-profile cases — including former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, has been hired to represent Nexperia’s interests in a judicial review of the situation by the High Court of England and Wales, The Telegraph reported this week.
National security concerns surrounding chip manufacturing have only grown more intense in recent months as the US and its allies have worked to stymie China’s domestic semiconductor industry.
These efforts have included freezing out Chinese chipmakers, such as memory vendor YMTC; banning the export of AI hardware made by the likes of Nvidia and AMD to the Middle Kingdom; and barring US vendors responsible for producing chipmaking equipment and software from doing business with Chinese firms.
And these efforts aren’t limited to the US. TSMC and Samsung Electronics — which rely heavily on US-made manufacturing equipment, technology, and intellectual property — have been forced to terminate manufacturing deals with several Chinese chipmakers, including Alibaba and Biren Technology. Meanwhile, Netherlands-based ASML, which produces equipment used in semiconductor manufacturing, has been prevented from selling its most advanced lithography equipment to China.
And as far as mergers and acquisitions are concerned, Nexperia’s Newport deal isn’t the first to be scuttled by concerns over Chinese government influence. iPhone maker Foxconn is facing fines from the Taiwanese government after it acquired a minority stake in China-based Tsinghau Unigroup without regulatory approval. The mega-manufacturer was forced to sell its stake in the company to Yantai Haixiu IC for “no less than” 5.38 billion yuan or about $770 million. ®