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Sellers of Mercator Confirm Talks with Agrokor Ongoing

Ljubljana, 05 June (STA) - The consortium of banks and companies which want to offload a majority stake in retailer Mercator confirmed Wednesday that talks with Croatian Agrokor were ongoing, but they did not indicate when the negotiations might conclude.

The news comes after it was revealed in mid-May that Agrokor was one of only two bidders to submit binding offer for the 53% stake put on sale by companies from the beverage group Pivovarna Laško and several banks.

Agrokor reportedly offered EUR 110 per share, less than half of what it had offered the at the end of last year, when the sale collapsed due to political pressure that the country's biggest retailer remain in Slovenian hands.

The sellers did not provide the details of the current talks beyond stressing that the interests of all stakeholders would be borne in mind and that the negotiations include "detailed talks" about Mercator's future.

Agrokor's latest bid was initially been criticised as inadequate, but aside from the price, the Croatian conglomerate faces stiff opposition from many in Slovenia who fear the acquisition would lead to the demise of Mercator.

Agrokor's problems in Slovenia were underlined today by Agriculture Minister Dejan Židan, who said that Mercator needed "stable shareholders who have money," a reference to reports that Agrokor may have problems financing the purchase.

"We've seen too many buyers who have come without money and then milked the acquired companies. I think we cannot do such stories any more," he said, adding that he opposed the sale to Mercator "to any company without money", Agrokor included.

Meanwhile, the ZSSS, the country's biggest trade union confederation, said it was not opposed to the sale, but it insists the new majority shareholder must preserve the brand, keep the 940 retail outlets in Slovenia and invest in development.

Given its size and economic importance, Mercator deserves special treatment from the state, as there is a grave danger that it might be sold off, ZSSS president Dušan Semolič told the press.

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