STA, 17 June 2019 - The final decision on the privatisation of Abanka, Slovenia's third largest bank, has been deferred to Wednesday after the supervisory board of Slovenian Sovereign Holding (SSH) decided not to convene Monday as planned. Nevertheless, comments by Prime Minister Šarec suggest the bank will be privatised despite initial apprehension.
Karmen Dietner, the chief supervisor of SSH, said the session was postponed so that the supervisory can "thoroughly examine the large amount of material that represents the substantive basis for the decision."
Abanka must be privatised by the end of this month according to commitments Slovenia made in exchange for a state aid clearance it received from the European Commission in 2013.
The procedure went according to plan until Prime Minister Šarec cast doubt on the plan by tweeting on 7 June that SSH should think about its decision given that police investigations into the bailout are ongoing.
But Šarec appeared to backtrack today, telling parliament during questions time that he was not putting any pressure on anyone. "The decision on the sale of Abanka will be adopted by SSH," he said.
The statement appears to settle who will have the final say: after the original tweet, SSH said only the government, representing the state as SSH's sole shareholder, had the power to change the course of the privatisation.
"I believe [SSH supervisors] are capable of taking this decision themselves without making anyone else responsible," Šarec said.
Šarec suggested his original tweet had simply been a comment on new facts revealed at the time - the release of the criminal complaint against the 2013 board of the central bank.
"I'm not pressuring anyone... This is simply a major story and the criminal complaint was a new fact for me," he told MPs.
Commenting on the issue before the postponement decision was made, Infrastructure Minister Alenka Bratušek, who was prime minister at the time of the 2013 bank bailout, said that there were actually no new facts lately which could affect the sale.
"It is irresponsible to change political decisions based on one documentary show," the head of the coalition Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) said in reference to RTV Slovenija's documentary about the bailout.
The film raised questions about the role of the European Commission in ordering that junior creditors of three banks be wiped out, prompting Šarec to publish the tweet in question.
Bratušek said that the coalition partners had immediately agreed that they would contact the European Commission last September to present the arguments for postponing the sale. This should have been done in September, not a week before the deadline, she added.
"When [SSH] is able to tell what will be the consequences of sale or non-sale, then we will be able to make the right decision. I hope that those who started this non-sale are aware of the possible consequences."
Coalition Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) head Karl Erjavec noted that the party had been against selling banks all the time, but added he did not believe anyone could stop the Abanka sale.
Asked about his potential vote in the government, the foreign minister said he would see what arguments SSH would give for leaving it to the government to decide.
Igor Zorčič, the head of the deputy group of the coalition Modern Centre Party (SMC), said that the "prime minister said he was reserved about this, and we are reserved even more."
"If SSH returns the issue to the government, it will probably need to decide in line with what its representatives have been saying," he added.
Luka Mesec of the opposition Left said that given Šarec's tweet, "we expect from the supervisory board to reject the sale of Abanka or leave it to the government to reject the sale and launch appropriate proceedings before the European Commission".
On the other hand, Jernej Vrtovec of the opposition New Slovenia said that Abanka needed to be sold, "not because of the commitments, but because I believe it would perform better in private ownership".
"I've had enough of these co-financing and recapitalisations of the banking system we had witnessed in the past," he said, adding that the pressure not to sale Abanka now, including from politicians, was inadmissible.
SSH is selling 100% of Abanka, with three binding bids reportedly in the EUR 400-500 million range, about a fifth below book value but, together with recent dividend payments, the proceeds would still be higher than what the state invested in Abanka as part of the bailout.
The SSH supervisors can either complete the sale directly or ask the government as the sole shareholder to have the final say, which is exactly what happened last year, when marker leader NLB was privatised.