The founder of the debt-ridden Agrokor food and retail group, Ivica Todoric, dismissed accusations levelled against him for the company's downfall in an interview he gave N1 television a day after the beginning of his extradition hearing in the UK.
In the interview, Todoric claimed he had agreed to the government taking over control of the company via a special law, dubbed by the media Lex Agrokor, because he was put under extreme pressure by Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, Economy Minister Martina Dalic and Minister of the Interior Davor Bozinovic.
"... Those people are in very high positions, and are using those positions to cover up the plunder in Agrokor and the persecution of its management," Todoric said in the interview conducted in London on April 11, the day after a court hearing was held about his extradition to Croatia, which opened a criminal investigation into the circumstances of Agrokor's demise.
Referring to the American hedge fund Knighthead Capital Management, one of Agrokor's creditors and the single largest holder of its bonds, Todoric said it is a vulture fund brought in by people close to Agrokor's former state-appointed crisis manager, Ante Ramljak, former finance minister, Borislav Skegro, and Economy Minister, Martina Dalic.
He added that Dalic was the author of the Lex Agrokor law which allowed the government to take over management of the privately-owned Agrokor, a law which he described as a "criminal and unconstitutional" document.
Todoric also said that Agrokor had no problems with payments to suppliers or debts before the crisis started, and that in 2016 its debt was only 2 percent up from the year before, and that in the meantime it managed to reschedule all of its debts.
He said that he was eventually forced to sign Lex Agrokor because he was target of a hounding campaign in the media, which, he said, resulted in creditors starting to ask what was going on with the company, and increasingly turning against him only a month later.
As for allegations that Agrokor's businesses were financed through the issuing of promissory notes without backing in goods, he said that the Croatian National Bank was aware of everything and that everything was done in agreement with the central bank's governor Boris Vujcic.
Todoric said he believed no agreement would be reached by Agrokor's crisis management and the company's creditors on a debt settlement plan, and that any such agreement would result in the demise of the domestic food industry.
He claimed that the purpose of the debt settlement plan is to protect Knighthead, and cover up for what he described as criminal activities regarding the roll-up loan agreement which creditors large influence in the restructuring of the company.
Todoric said he was not afraid of being placed in custody in Croatia should he return to the country on Croatia's extradition request.
"Why should I go to prison, this is a disgrace, they should (first) prove if I have taken anything," he told N1.
Todoric also dismissed speculations that in building his business empire he was helped by politicians in power, including the late Croatian President Franjo Tudjman.
Todoric and 14 other former senior managers at Agrokor are currently under investigation by Croatian authorities over a debt crisis in the company which employs 60,000 people across the region.