Croatian company Agrokor accepts debt of $ 6.35 billion, disputes Sberbank claim

ZAGREB (Reuters) – Bankrupt Croatian food and retail conglomerate Agrokor [AGROK.UL] recognizes creditors’ claims worth 41.2 billion kuna ($ 6.35 billion) but challenges other claims totaling 16.5 billion kuna, including that of Russian bank Sberbank, its largest creditor , the administrator said Thursday.

Agrokor, the biggest employer in the Balkans with around

60,000 employees, was placed under public administration in April and has until July 2018 to reach a final settlement with creditors to avoid bankruptcy.

Its founder Ivica Todoric, who was detained and released on bail in London on Tuesday, and 14 others are under investigation into Agrokor’s issues.

Agrokor’s creditors include bondholders, local and foreign banks, and suppliers. The largest single debt, around 1.1 billion euros, is held by Sberbank.

But the administrator said the amount of Sberbank’s claim remained controversial as it had taken legal action against Agrokor companies in other countries, including Serbia and Bosnia, to secure repayment of a part of the debt.

Administrator Ante Ramljak said that if Sberbank waives this legal process, its debt could be recognized.

“We are in constant communication (with Sberbank),” Ramljak said.

Sberbank said in a statement it was “unpleasantly surprised” by Agrokor’s position.

“Anyone, including Sberbank, can resort to any legally permitted measure, in Croatia or in other countries, to protect their interests and should not be discriminated against because of it,” the statement said. Sberbank added that it would appeal Agrokor’s decision.

Ramljak said Sberbank could not block the final settlement with creditors as this requires the support of creditors holding at least 66% of the claims. Sberbank’s claims amount to less than 20 percent.

Agrokor said earlier that Sberbank could withdraw up to € 115 million from all its proceedings outside Croatia.

“If they took part in this out-of-court (restructuring) process, they could surely get that amount, maybe even more,” Ramljak said.

He did not want to speculate on probable write-offs, but analysts believe some creditors should accept write-offs of up to 70%.

Ramljak said no company in the Agrokor group would be offered for sale until the final settlement.

“We are seeing strong interest in (some) Agrokor companies, but there will be no sale until the creditors agree to the settlement,” he said.

Report by Igor Ilic, edited by Emelia Sithole-Matarise

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