Editorial (Conspiracy Edition): Opel, RHJ, GM, Bilderberg, Rattner and Black Helicopters

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt

Last night, make that early in the morning here in Beijing, I received a pleasant phone call. The lady identified herself as working for a large and reputable German newspaper. We exchanged German pleasantries, as much as they exist. Then she said: “You wrote about RHJ, Ripplewood and Opel? Do you know anything about Tim Collins’ connections?” I confessed that I know of a recording artist named Collins, but his first name is Phil.

“TIM Collins, the owner of Ripplewood,” she said. “Sorry, never met the guy” was my answer. She says: “Okay, maybe I have to dig around his old compatriots myself.” With these words, she bid me ta-ta.

This was not the first time I had received one of those calls. Usually, after a juicy installment of the Porsche/Piech soap, people call me and say they are from some news organization. They usually want my sources. On the off-chance that they may be plumbers looking for a leak, I usually refer them to people I don’t particularly like: “Maybe he knows something.”

This lady sounded different. She was a professional journalist. So this morning, I fire up my laptop and peruse the big disintermediator of investigative journalism: Google.

Wait, before I google through gadzillions of pages, a quick glance at Reuters: “Merkel back’s Magna’s Opel bid” it says here. On the occasion of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Munich, Germany, Angela said that except for some minor issues that need cleaning up, “the Magna concept offers excellent starting points. It offers Opel a chance and also creates the possibility of establishing a strategic partnership in the car sector with Russia.” Medvedev was pleased to hear it. A rare endorsement straight from the top, even before the final bids are in? Sure looks like a slam-dunk to this reporter.

The other bidder, Ripplewood/RHJ, appears to be in deep doo-doo. Their plan to grab Opel and as much government money as possible, close some plants, fire some workers, and then sell a squeaky-clean Opel back to GM got out too early. The states where Opel has factories basically told Ripplewood/RHJ to take a hike. Germany’s central government echoed the notion. Message as follows: If GM sells its European car business to anyone other than Magna International Inc., then Germany might (make that: definitely will) withdraw its offer of state aid. 10-4?

To my utter amazement, today’s Reuters also carries the headline: “RHJ offers $388 million for Opel stake.” The article reveals that RHJ has the nerve to offer chump change to the sad tune of €275m for a 50.1 percent stake in General Motors’ Opel business. They also offer “production cutbacks and pay cuts for staff.” RHJ’s spreadsheet “sees Opel posting a positive cash flow before funding of €1b by 2011.” ( Outline of RHJ’s plan here. It won’t sit well in Belgium, Spain and the U.K.)

$388m for a majority of Opel? I beg your pardon? That’s all they’ve got? China’s Geely wants to shell out $2b for tiny Volvo! And what’s with “before funding?” For RHJ, there won’t be any funding from the lender of last resort, the German taxpayer, that has just been made abundantly clear.

I nearly had forgotten about last night’s call.

I never cared before to look behind the curtain of RHJ, they were a dark horse which nobody took seriously. The Germans have an ingrained aversion against strip-and-flip private equity houses. Too many companies were stripped naked, flipped over and left dead. RHJ was a sideshow. Car guys want to deal with car guys. RHJ has been told to scram, there will be no government support for them, and NOW they are back with a $388m charitable donation? (They need a public handout worth several billions. Their plan is mute on that topic.)

Who ARE those people? RHJ is one of a bunch of companies owned by Ripplewood Holdings LLC, a New York private equity firm. It owns companies such as Interstate Bakeries Corp. and good old Reader’s Digest (good luck with that.) RHJ International is based in Belgium, they have investments in a number of companies. Ripplewood was founded 1995 by Tim Collins, after he had left Lazard, one of the world’s largest investment banks.

Tim Collins is one of the few people who publicly acknowledge that they are a member of the Trilateral Commission. Tim Collins is also reported as a frequent attendee at the secretive Bilderberg conferences.

“Trilateral Commission” and “Bilderberg” makes many true blue Americans grab their guns, head for the hills, and scan the skies for black helicopters.

Before you brand me as a total nutjob, the Trilateral Commission and the Bilderberg Group actually do exist. Whether they own black helicopters, I don’t know.

Now guess who is also listed as a Bilderberger? Steven Rattner, the recently departed head of the Presidential Task Force On Autos. So is Timothy Geithner by the way, he was seen at the recent Bilderberg meeting in Athens, Greece, in May.

Collins and Rattner have more in common than rubbing shoulders at meetings that give plain people New World Order nightmares. Collins and Rattner were colleagues at Lazard. Rattner joined Lazard in 1989 as General Partner. Collins was Vice President at Lazard from 1984 to 1990. Both are listed at Statemaster.com as “notable employees” of Lazare.

Was that what the nice lady meant when she recommended to dig around old compatriots?

Let’s back up to May: When Opel was put up for bid in May, it was the Magna v.v. Fiat show. Car guys. The day before the bids were to be surrendered in Berlin, Bloomberg suddenly floated Ripplewood/RHJ. RHJ handed in a surprise bid. It was ignored. After a spat in Berlin that nearly caused a diplomatic incident, Fiat dropped out and Magna was declared winner pro tem. Then, as the negotiations bogged down, the bidding was open again.

Speaking of Bloomberg: The New York Times says that Rattner “is friends with the mayor of New York City, Michael R. Bloomberg, and Quadrangle manages the mayor’s personal fortune.”

In the meantime, pension funds in New York and New Mexico are unhappy. Accusations involving Quadrangle were included in an S.E.C. complaint.

Bloomberg’s report on the German/Russian meeting downplayed Merkel’s magnanimous Magna endorsement to a “We’ll express our support for this deal.” If you are a conspiracist, you could make the case that Bloomberg is more sympathetic to RHJ than to Magna.

Want more conspiracy? Google “Trilateral Commission” “Bilderberg” “Steven Rattner” “Tim Collins” So why couldn’t the nice lady on the phone do that herself?

Question to the Best & Brightest: Which plan will GM recommend? Magna or RHJ? Which plan will Berlin accept? Any dark choppers?

Bertel Schmitt
Bertel Schmitt

Bertel Schmitt comes back to journalism after taking a 35 year break in advertising and marketing. He ran and owned advertising agencies in Duesseldorf, Germany, and New York City. Volkswagen A.G. was Bertel's most important corporate account. Schmitt's advertising and marketing career touched many corners of the industry with a special focus on automotive products and services. Since 2004, he lives in Japan and China with his wife <a href="http://www.tomokoandbertel.com"> Tomoko </a>. Bertel Schmitt is a founding board member of the <a href="http://www.offshoresuperseries.com"> Offshore Super Series </a>, an American offshore powerboat racing organization. He is co-owner of the racing team Typhoon.

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  • Bertel Schmitt Bertel Schmitt on Jul 18, 2009

    Hmmm. The piece made it to the Wallstreet Journal. Oddly, it is filed under obama.wsj.com . Also, USA Today picked it up. Oddly, filed under "Beijing." And they are intrigued by the Russian angle. The pot sickens.

  • Bertel Schmitt Bertel Schmitt on Jul 18, 2009
    Maybe they DID buy Lenin’s ticket out of Germany when things began to get hot Mpresley: That Lenin was brought out of Swiss exile and ferried to Russia, on the so-called "sealed train" courtesy of Germany, in 1917 is a historical fact. The German Reich fought War One on two fronts and wanted the eastern front to self-destruct. Kindof worked, but as we all know, it backfired badly.
  • Marty S I learned to drive on a Crosley. Also, I had a brand new 75 Buick Riviera and the doors were huge. Bent the inside edge of the hood when opening it while the passenger door was open. Pretty poor assembly quality.
  • 3-On-The-Tree Alan, I was an Apache pilot and after my second back surgery I was medically boarded off of flying status due to vibrations, climbing on and off aircraft, so I was given the choice of getting out or re-branching so I switched to Military Intel. Yes your right if you can’t perform your out doesn’t matter if your at 17 years. Dad always said your just a number, he was a retired command master chief 25 years.
  • ToolGuy "Note that those vehicles are in direct competition with models Rivian sells"• I predict that we are about to hear why this statement may not be exactly true
  • ToolGuy From the relevant Haynes Repair Manual:"Caution: The 4.6L models require a special tool to extract the water pump from the coolant crossover housing. This special tool is expensive and the removal procedure is difficult. Have the water pump replaced by a dealer service department or other qualified automotive repair facility if the tool is not available."One version of the tool is Lisle 14440; I paid $10.82 (less 5% discount, plus shipping).You can see why I never attempt my own maintenance or repairs. 😉
  • Dave M. IMO this was the last of the solidly built MBs. Yes, they had the environmentally friendly disintegrating wiring harness, but besides that the mechanicals are pretty solid. I just bought my "forever" car (last new daily driver that'll ease me into retirement), but a 2015-16 E Class sedan is on my bucket list for future purchase. Beautiful design....