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U.S. senator asks for CFIUS review of GNC purchase by Chinese company

FILE PHOTO: Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) asks a question during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the State Department's 2021 budget, in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, in Washington, D.C., U.S., July 30, 2020. Greg Nash/Pool via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican and a China hawk, asked for a national security review of plans by General Nutrition Centers GNC.N, or GNC, to sell itself to Harbin Pharmaceutical Group Co Ltd.

Rubio, who had also urged a probe of TikTok’s ownership by another Chinese firm, made the request in a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The department leads the inter-agency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

GNC, a health and nutrition products retailer, has said it has agreed in principle with many lenders to sell itself to an affiliate of its largest shareholder, Harbin Pharmaceutical 600664.SS, for $760 million in a court-supervised auction, subject to higher bids.

Harbin’s controlling stake was reviewed by CFIUS and approved in 2018, a GNC spokesperson said, adding that no consumer data was available to any foreign national.

“That (2018) transaction was approved, and no facts or circumstances have changed to call the committee’s support into question. We will continue to work with all relevant agencies throughout the restructuring process and maintain our rigorous standards for data privacy,” the spokesperson said.

In his letter, Rubio said that the Chinese government is seeking sensitive data about Americans through a variety of means, and that GNC data would be valuable.

“Efforts to obtain personal and sensitive data related to health information and financial transactions of U.S. persons must be reviewed with an understanding of the malign foreign policy and intelligence aims of the Chinese government and Communist Party,” he wrote.

Rubin also noted that GNC has many shops in and near U.S. military facilities. “In the event of a GNC acquisition by HPGC, Chinese authorities and intelligence officials could leverage GNC military sites to gain access to those restricted locations,” he wrote.

Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Steve Orlofsky

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