Commons seeks clarity on Nortel

The House of Commons industry committee wants to talk to the lead players in the Nortel Networks (TSX:NT) sale drama.

The House of Commons industry committee wants to talk to the lead players in the Nortel Networks (TSX:NT) sale drama.

The parliamentary committee has called for an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the auction process that ended with Swedish telecom company Ericsson as the successful bidder for a key chunk of Nortel’s wireless technology business.

“We want to know what happened, how the bidding process has unfolded and what consideration the government has given to public investment in Nortel,” Liberal MP and committee member Marc Garneau said.

“Ultimately, what we want to do is ensure some due diligence in protecting any Canadian investment in intellectual property, but we also want to ask the government where it’s been through this whole process.”

The hearings are intended to bring clarity to the Nortel auction process, which was completed in closed-door negotiations and overshadowed by controversy over claims the process shut out bidders. It has also sparked worries about a foreign buyer taking major pieces of the Canadian technology giant.

Officials from Industry Canada, Ericsson and BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (TSX:RIM), which made a failed bid for the assets, are scheduled to be at the meeting.

The hearings are expected to be televised, and scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. ET and continue until 3 p.m., committee clerk Isabelle Dumas said.

A spokeswoman for Ericsson said the company will not discuss its planned comments before the meeting, while a RIM representative would only confirm the company’s attendance.

RIM has complained that it was shut out of the auction that saw Ericsson scoop up assets from the insolvent telecom equipment maker for $1.13 billion. Nortel has said it gave RIM plenty of options and chances to make a bid.

Opposition politicians and others have called for a government review of the sale, with many concerned that Nortel’s valuable wireless technology will be swept out of the country.

NDP MP Brian Masse sent a letter to the committee’s chairman requesting that an emergency hearing be held.

“We’ve done it in the past, it’s not that unusual,” Masse said, recalling when he served on the committee for gas pricing in 2003.

Masse outlined various areas he wants to discuss, including the specifics of the assets included in the Ericsson purchase and the national security ramifications which could result from a sale to a foreign owner.

Those who objected to Ericsson’s bid were offered a chance to present their case in U.S. and Canadian courts last week, but judges on both sides of the border said they were satisfied that the Nortel assets were being sold at a fair price.

Nortel, once Canada’s high-technology darling, filed for creditor protection in January, battered by the recession and a downturn in its market that derailed a restructuring effort.

Since then, it has begun a process to sell pieces of its assets in separate auctions. The company is preparing to receive bids for its enterprise division by Sept. 4.

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