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Lasko Plans to Start Production In Serbia

Ljubljana, 15 January (STA) - Pivovarna Lasko plans to set up a production base in Serbia, the head of the beverage group Dusan Zorko announced for Friday's issue of business daily Finance. According to Zorko, local presence is a prerequisite for popularity. The CEO is meanwhile considering inviting Lasko's employees into the group's ownership structure.

He explained that there was also the possibility of a direct investment in Serbia and that a decision on this is to be adopted within two or three months.

"Everything is ready, we only need to reach a final agreement with the partners," Zorko said. He estimates the investment at a few tens of millions of euros, "which is something that we can handle and obtain".

As regards the restructuring of the Lasko group, Zorko said that a choice needed to be made between bringing the entire beverage industry under one roof and preserving the existing structure with a shared management approach.

"For the time being I am leaning towards the latter solution. Also because we are already discussing which investments to sell off."

Zorko explained that Lasko would probably publish at the end of January a call for bids for publisher Vecer. There is meanwhile no rush when it comes to publisher Delo, since the loan that involves Delo as collateral does not expire before 15 September.

He noted that Lasko would not necessarily be selling its entire stakes in the two publishers and that there were also ideas to offer a part of Vecer and Delo to employees, including Lasko's.

While acknowledging that times have changed and that people might be less enthusiastic about this, Zorko said the goal was to "set up a long-term ownership structure". "If I manage to do this, this will be my big achievement."

Things are different with retailer Mercator, which is an investment Zorko is happy with.

"The banks owning Mercator have been sending different signals as regards the determination to sell. If all are selling, we will probably also join. We can keep 5%, 23%, or sell everything," he said.

The Lasko boss, who took over in July last year, was referring to the stakes banks confiscated in Mercator from the previous Lasko management after the financial crisis disrupted an MBO attempt at the brewery.

As regards the banks' holding in Lasko, Zorko said the banks will not be selling so soon, even though they cannot hold the shares very long.

"As I said, we will also invite employees, partners and other interested parties to join in. The other option is selling to a foreign financial or strategic owner."

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