Former economy minister from 2000 to 2002 and businessman, Goranko Fizulic, appeared on N1 television's morning show Novi Dan on Thursday, to comment on the indebted food and retail group Agrokor settlement plan that had been approved by the overwhelming majority of its creditors on Wednesday.
The settlement plan has been voted in by creditors yesterday. What happens next?
The Commercial Court in Zagreb now has to confirm the deal, and we still have the legally mandated deadline for appeals by those who are opposed to it. The settlement will come into effect legally only when the High Commercial Court confirms the plan, in its current form or some other. We can't expect the court to merely rubber stamp the deal, I'm not sure they would approve of this deal as it is. They surprised us a few months back with their decision on inter-company guarantees (issued by Agrokor companies to one another) which created a stumbling block for the emergency administration and politicians. Let's not be surprised if something like that happens again.
What could be the most contentious part of the transformation from the old Agrokor into the new company?
I think it will be relatively easy to prove things that are against the bankruptcy law. The principle of equality of creditors hasn't been respected. The emergency administration even bragged how it favoured certain creditors over others in order to get the deal.
What's the strategy of the Adris consumer goods company, which has a 1 billion kuna (€135 million) debt claim? They have been critical of the whole procedure from the get go.
You need to get back to the beginning of the crisis. Both the former Economy Minister, Martina Dalic, and the former emergency administrator, Ante Ramljak, claimed that Agrokor will no longer exist as a conglomerate. The head of the Knighthead hedge fund said that it should remain a single group. The entire deal between Sberbank and Knighthead is based on that. That was the condition set by Knighthead for it to hand over control to Russian banks. So there was no room for Adris, or anyone else. Adris has been disputing the entire model used to reach the settlement all along. It's a financially stable company and can afford to go into lengthy court cases. They simply don't want to be short-changed by the deal, and they are powerful and independent enough to insist on proving their rights.
What about so-called mirror-companies, the idea to set up twin companies intended to take over healthy parts of Agrokor's various firms?
That has been a huge problem the whole time and it's something the government will have to get involved in. For them to have any value, they must inherit the existing concession contracts to water sources or plots of land. How that would happen is a gray area legally. If a legal entity ceases to exist, what happens with its debts and contracts? It's a precedent, something we have never had before, and it will require the government to get directly involved, which is bound to cause a series of controversies.
Sberbank's executive Maxim Poletaev said that this scenario was not what Russian banks wanted. What options does Sberbank have now?
Sberbank had created that stand-still agreement in the first place, and it was them who had brought in (emergency manager) Antonio Alvarez, just before the state-appointed management took over the company in April 2017. Once their claims increased to more than €1 billion, they had to take the risk. They negotiated from day one with Knighthead over paying out each other. They did not take part in the roll-up loan, so this was the only way for them to get out of Agrokor with minimum losses. They will get rid of the ownership stake at Agrokor at some point.
What's the state of Agrokor at this moment?
Jamnica (mineral water company), Ledo (frozen foods company), and Zvijezda (cooking oil producer) are healthy, anyone would buy them, interested buyers will happily stand in line to acquire them. But nobnody wants to buy retail chains Konzum and Mercator, and that's a problem. The concept of retail espoused by Konzum and Mercator is outdated, and they need to be restructured. For that to happen, it would take time, people, and a plan. But Jamnica, Ledo, Zvijezda - they can be sold within 3-6 months, we don't need to worry about them.
Is there any possibility for Croatian economy to take over parts of Agrokor?
This idea of a "Croatian company" is foreign to me, you never know when a local owner might choose to sell his business to a foreigner, that's not something we need to concern ourselves with. Jamnica will be bought by creditors, so that they reduce their losses. It must be sold then to whoever shows up with the best offer, and that's the only way its future owners can avoid losses. Any attempt to favour Croatian ownership is wrong, we have seen a lot of that over the years. Borders are invisible to capitalism and private ownership.
(€1 = 7.38 kuna)