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Laško Boss Urges Decision on Mercator, Laško

Ljubljana, 10 February (STA) - The boss of beverage company Pivovarna Laško has called on the government to buy out retailer Mercator through state-run funds, while he said the consortium selling 52.1% in Mercator would decide on further steps soon.

Dušan Zorko told Friday's edition of the daily Delo that the consortium for the sale of Mercator, which apart from Laško also includes several banks, would ascertain these days how to proceed after Croatia's Agrokor withdrew its takeover bid.

With Agrokor's sudden withdrawal from the battle for Mercator Slovenian politicians are once again facing the challenge of how to solve the triangle between the banks, Mercator and Pivovarna Laško, Zorko said.

The banks, which have ended up with shares in Slovenia's biggest retailer after a failed management buyout in Laško, have been insisting that Laško carry out a divestment plan in exchange for refinancing.

"The previous government was not in favour of the sale [of Mercator], and the incoming has not stated its position yet. Throughout the process signals have been clear that politics will not allow the sale," Zorko said.

He believes that society as a whole, banks, as well as Mercator should get engaged in the restructuring of Laško, as the latter does not represent a stable owner. Laško owns nearly 24% of Mercator.

"If Mercator is a strategic project of the state, the state should go about it right so that it helps find a solution."

Zorko sees several options for the state, one being a bad bank, one to help with the restructuring of loans and a third one to disperse ownership among suppliers.

Zorko urged the banks to extend Laško's EUR 150m worth of loans which are due at the end of March. Laško has outstanding debt to 20 banks, the biggest creditor being the state-owned NLB bank.

Meetings with the creditor banks will begin next week, with Zorko hoping for a rearrangement of maturity to between five and seven years and a moratorium.

Zorko also announced a renewed call for bids for the newspaper publisher Delo after no binding bid arrived in response to the first call.

He does not think the banks will try to sell Laško until it holds the share in Mercator and the newspaper publishing business. "If we only had beverages, we'd be already be sold by now," he said, pointing to interest among big European brewers.

NLB has its loans in Laško secured with the shares of brewer Pivovarna Union, which it can sell if Laško fails to pay back its debts.

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