* Ante Ramljak approved to lead Agrokor restructuring
* Banks seen providing 150 mln euro liquidity injection
* Court asks creditors to submit claims within 60 days
(Adds liquidity injection, analyst comment, paragraphs 7-9)
By Igor Ilic
ZAGREB, April 10 Croatia is struggling to
contain the economic fallout from problems at heavily indebted
food group Agrokor, the restructuring expert
appointed by the government to lead the process said on Monday.
Agrokor, the biggest employer in the Balkan region with some
60,000 staff, racked up debts during a rapid expansion, notably
in Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Serbia. According to the latest
data from last September, its debts totalled around 45 billion
kuna ($6.42 billion), or six times its equity.
"We're struggling to prevent Agrokor's problems spilling
over to the whole Croatian economy and wider across the (Balkan)
region," Ante Ramljak, an investment banking expert, told
reporters. Ramljak's nomination to lead Agrokor's restructuring
was approved by the Zagreb commercial court on Monday.
Agrokor said on Friday it was handing control to the state
under an emergency law introduced last week to deal with big
companies facing financial trouble. Under the law, the state
must appoint an executive to steer a restructuring.
Ramljak is expected to assemble a team of experts and
advisers to guide the process, which will include refinancing of
debts and possibly selling parts of the company.
Six banks, including Agrokor's biggest creditors Russian
lenders Sberbank and VTB, said on Monday
they were working to conclude an initial cash injection.
"The banks have agreed to provide a liquidity injection
worth 150 million euros. If a good restructuring plan is
prepared, I think this process could take a right direction,"
said Miljenko Zivaljic, head of Croatia's largest bank,
Zagrebacka Banka, after a meeting with Prime Minister Andrej
Plenkovic. Zagrebacka Banka is owned by UniCredit.
Analysts say this is a good first step, but a solution for
Agrokor's problems is still far away.
"The banks are apparently cautious as we still don't know
the details of restructuring plan. Ramljak must act quickly to
take advantage of the liquidity injection. Also, the problem is
we don't know exactly how huge is Agrokor's debt at the moment,"
said Damir Novotny, an independent analyst.
Agrokor struck a deal last week with the banks to freeze
repayments and get an unspecified cash injection before
restructuring the business. But suppliers, who were worried
about delayed payments under a restructuring, did not sign up.
Without broad agreement of all the stakeholders, Agrokor was
left little choice but to seek state assistance. The emergency
law envisages any restructuring taking 15 months.
It was unclear on Monday what role the restructuring expert
Agrokor appointed under last week's deal - Antonio Alvarez III -
would have under Ramljak.
The Zagreb commercial court also unfroze the accounts of
Agrokor and its firms on Monday, and has asked creditors to
submit their claims within 60 days.
"Our goal now is to stabilise Agrokor's operations in the
coming days and the second step will include its restructuring
for which we will also seek an adviser," Prime Minister
Plenkovic said on Monday.
($1 = 7.0257 kuna)
(Reporting by Igor Ilic; Editing by Susan Thomas and Mark