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A private business held by the new owner of Britishvolt has been raided by Australian authorities over suspected tax fraud, throwing uncertainty over plans to press ahead with a UK battery factory.
Australian entrepreneur David Collard purchased parts of defunct Britishvolt out of administration this year, with the promise of reviving its plans to build a large-scale battery factory in Blyth, Northumberland.
However, he has yet to purchase the land for the plant, which costs almost £10mn and is still held as security by receiver Katch.
The tax fraud investigation relates to SaniteX, a business owned by Collard that provides services to some of his other companies, including Scale Facilitation, the entity that owns Britishvolt.
On Friday, tax investigators from the Australian Federal Police arrived at offices shared by SaniteX and Scale Foundation in Victoria to seize IT and communications equipment, as part of a probe into the business that has been going on for close to two months, according to people with knowledge of the investigation.
A spokesman for Scale Facilitation said: “We have and will continue to fully co-operate with the Australian Taxation Office and now the AFP. We deny any wrongdoing and will continue working with our legal and other advisers to defend any matters arising from these discussions.”
The raid was first reported by The Australian newspaper.
The raid comes as Collard is in the delicate process of lining up funding and partners for the Britishvolt plant, a project that was already delayed under its previous owners and will probably require billions of pounds of investment.
Collard, a former PwC partner, is also trying to build a battery factory in Australia.
In February, Collard’s firm bought Britishvolt’s intellectual property, consisting of battery technology and two dozen staff, after the three-year old start-up collapsed into administration a month earlier.
Britishvolt was once seen as the UK’s best hope for a homegrown battery champion for the electric vehicle era. But the business collapsed in January after running out of cash and failing to attract new inventors.
Collard was open to using Britishvolt’s own battery systems at a later date, he previously told the Financial Times, but planned to use other technology licensed from the US in its first products.
The UK is vying with Europe and the US to attract battery investments to support the future of its car industry. The industry has warned that the coming three years are crucial in getting battery factory commitments in place for the decades ahead, and that delays to UK plans would endanger the long-term future of the country’s car plants.
Jaguar Land Rover owner Tata Motors is expected to announce a UK battery factory in Somerset within weeks, after Tata chair Natarajan Chandrasekaran met prime minister Rishi Sunak last month.