Anti-trust Watchdog Continues to Hold Agrokor’s Mercator Shares Over Unpaid €53.9m Fine

By , 16 Jun 2020, 10:32 AM Business
Anti-trust Watchdog Continues to Hold Agrokor’s Mercator Shares Over Unpaid €53.9m Fine

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STA, 15 June 2020 - The Competition Protection Agency has decided to extend the temporary seizure of Mercator shares from the retailer's owner, Croatian group Agrokor. The latter has still not paid a EUR 53.9 million fine issued for its failure to notify the anti-trust watchdog of the 2016 takeover of Slovenian-based bottled water company Costella.

The Slovenian anti-trust agency, on whose behalf the Financial Administration seized 70% of Mercator shares from Agrokor last December, confirmed the decision for the STA on Monday.

It said the measure was being extended to protect the fine decision in line with an option which allows the seizure to be prolonged. It would not say what steps would follow, while explaining a confiscation of shares can be extended only once for a maximum of six months.

The seizure has been upheld by the Ljubljana District Court while an Agrokor challenge has recently been rejected by the Constitutional Court.

The move means it remains impossible to transfer a majority stake in Mercator from insolvent Agrokor to its successor Fortenova.

The transfer was already expected at the end of last year, but a failure to obtain consent from Mercator's creditor banks complicated the affair. Slovenia's biggest grocer, which was sold to Agrokor in 2014, owes over EUR 100 million to creditors and the loans will need to be rescheduled in mid-2021. Mercator's management expects no problems here.

Responding to the anti-trust agency's latest decision, Fortenova said today that it had not come as a surprise and expressed expectation that Mercator shares would be transferred onto Fortenova by the end of the year. It also said that it would continue fighting against the seizure with any mean available.

Meanwhile, Fortenova head Fabris Peruško has recently said that legal proceedings are still under way with respect to the seizure. He did not provide details, while mentioning the paying of the fine as one option as he expressed his expectation that conditions would soon be met for the transfer of Mercator to Fortenova.

Along with the lifting of the anti-trust watchdog's measure and the consent of all 56 Mercator creditors, a nod from the European Commission is also needed for the transfer. Fortenova expects the EU's greenlight in a few months.

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