January 23, 2022

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U.S. to Add SenseTime to Investment Blacklist Ahead of IPO

(Bloomberg) — The U.S. will place SenseTime Group Inc. on an investment blacklist Friday, accusing the artificial intelligence startup of enabling human rights abuses, a person with knowledge of the matter said.

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SenseTime, which is expected to price its Hong Kong initial public offering on the same day, will be added to a list of “Chinese military-industrial complex companies” in which Americans are banned from investing, the person said, asking not to be identified as information is private. The company is already blacklisted under the Commerce Department’s entity list, which prevents it from accessing key U.S. suppliers and technologies.

Adding SenseTime to the list is timed to coincide with Human Rights Day, which is also on Friday, the person said. The move, which was earlier reported by the Financial Times, is part of a package of sanctions against a number of countries to mark the occasion, as well as to coincide with the last day of President Joe Biden’s Democracy summit. The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed legislation designed to punish China for its treatment of Uyghur Muslims in the country’s Xinjiang province.

SenseTime didn’t immediately respond to a Bloomberg News request for comment. During the Trump administration, the U.S. had slapped sanctions on SenseTime, arguing that the AI firm was one of a number Chinese companies that were complicit in human rights violations in the country’s Xinjiang region. The company had previously denied the allegations.

In August, the SoftBank Group Corp.-backed company said in its IPO prospectus that just one of its subsidiaries, Beijing SenseTime, is subject to U.S. sanctions under the entity list, a narrow interpretation of the blacklisting that could bolster its business. The restrictions on that unit do not apply to other SenseTime entities, based on a legal opinion from the law firm Hughes Hubbard & Reed, the company said then.

It’s unclear how the new blacklisting will impact SenseTime’s upcoming IPO. The AI startup is seeking to raise as much as $768 million in a listing slated for Dec. 17, Bloomberg reported this week. Eight cornerstone investors have already committed to subscribe for $450 million in SenseTime shares, terms of the deal show, representing about 59% of the offering.

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