FIRB’s Wilson delays Carlyle start

The appointment of Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board chairman by buyout firm Carlyle had raised concerns about conflicts of interest.

Brian Wilson, chairman of Australia’s foreign direct investment advisory board, is delaying plans to take an advisory role at private equity giant Carlyle over concerns about a potential conflict of interest, he said on Tuesday.

Wilson was appointed senior advisor to Carlyle’s Asia buyout team at the start of September, but has since been dogged by claims his position with the firm could influence decisions he makes on behalf of the Foreign Investment Review Board, the body which examines proposals by foreign investors looking to invest in Australia.

Earlier this year, Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison said he was likely to block the S Kidman sale to a Chinese-led consortium, because it was “contrary to the national interest”. The board also recently blocked a bid by Chinese and Hong Kong bidders to buy New South Wales electricity provider Ausgrid.

Questions were raised about whether his decisions to approve or block deals would be influenced by his standing with Carlyle, especially if the private equity firm was an underbidder for an asset of a competitor to a group seeking FIRB approval.

“To ensure there can be no question as to the integrity of Australia’s foreign investment review system I have decided to suspend the commencement of my proposed role with The Carlyle Group until April 2017, when my term as part-time non-executive chairman of the FIRB expires,” Wilson said in the statement.

He added he would recuse himself from involvement in any matter which comes before the FIRB prior to April 2017 that involves Carlyle.

Carlyle has invested in food and agribusiness companies, including Al Nabil Food Industries in Jordan, Almar Foods in Saudi Arabia, Carroll Cuisine in Ireland, a beansprout brand in Japan and China Forestry Holdings in China, where it has made a range of investments. Carlyle has four portfolio companies in Australia to date including equipment lender Coates, according to its website.

Wilson has been the chairman of FIRB since 2012. Over his 30 year career to-date, he has held senior roles at Lazard and Citigroup Australia and has advised on more than 60 public company takeovers and cross-border transactions.

US-based Carlyle, meanwhile, has $178 billion in assets under management and is a major player in multinational deals and investments.