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Croatia's Agrokor Would Syphon Money from Mercator, Dnevnik Says

Ljubljana, 05 March (STA) - Croatian company Agrokor is planning to buy the entire Mercator, and then syphon the money from the leading Slovenian grocer to pay its debts, according to the documents acquired by the daily Dnevnik.

Dnevnik says that the documents it has got hold of were drafted by BNP Paribas, a French bank which the daily says would be one of the main banks financing the planned takeover.

To enter Mercator, Agrokor would have to get enormous loans, so BNP Paribas warns that the planned synergies would have to be realized as soon as possible.

This means, says Dnevnik, that Agrokor would have to transfer the payment of its huge debts onto the shoulders of Mercator as soon as possible.

The documents, which BNP Paribas drafted as a basis to decide on how to carry out the takeover, show that Agrokor has been planning to take over the 100% stake in Mercator all along.

Given that Agrokor is aware of Slovenian politicians being against the takeover, it is considering offering the state a minor stake in Mercator and a seat on the supervisory board.

However, pundits quoted by Dnevnik say this would not prevent the possible syphoning of Mercator's money to pay for Agrokor's debts.

Three banks would give Agrokor loans for the takeover, says Dnevnik, listing Unicredit, BNP Paribas and JP Morgan, but notes that the consent of the EBRD, which hold a 8% stake in Agrokor, is a prerequisite for the deal.

The daily says Unicredit Banka Slovenija has already agreed to issue a guarantee with which Agrokor would prove to be a serious buyer of a 23.34% stake in Mercator which has been put up for sale by Slovenian beverage group Pivovarna Lasko.

The deadline for bids for the stake expires on Wednesday. Responding to speculations that Lasko and Agrokor have already signed a pre-emptive agreement, Lasko CEO Dusan Zorko denied this on Friday.

He said Lasko - which is selling several of its investments to repay huge debts - would sell Mercator if it got "an appropriate offer".

BNP Paribas's documents show that in the first year after the takeover of Mercator, the deal would have resulted in EUR 130 in synergies, Dnevnik says.

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