The Slovenia Times

PM Tells NLB to Think of Jobs in Weighing Mercator Sale


NLB chairman Janko Medja responded by reminding the government of committments regarding NLB made to the European Commission.


Speaking to the press in Kranj, Bratušek said it seemed fair to her that she explain her position on the developments after the government discussed the sale to Croatian rival Agrokor last week.

She stressed Mercator was Slovenia'a largest company which directly provides 10,000 jobs, while indirectly providing jobs to 30,000 people. Many Slovenian families depend on Mercator's operations, the PM added.

Bratušek expressed concern over the prolonged sale and especially over the conditions being changed constantly, while urging the largest Slovenian bank "to make sure that the sale will be conducted transparently and with existing assets as opposed to debt capital".

The sale of Mercator to Agrokor has become a hot political topic ahead of the 13 July general election, with sentiment against the sale growing since the government collapsed in early May.

Initial calls to halt the sale by trade unions have since emboldened some members of the government coalition to speak out against the sale.

The opponents of the sale fear that Agrokor, which is a major producer of food in Croatia, will replace Slovenian products with its own on Mercator's shelves.

They also argue that Agrokor is unfit to own Mercator, which has itself struggled to manage nearly EUR 1bn in debt, because of its own indebtedness.

Bratušek stressed that NLB, which has a pivotal say in the sale, "must not make the mistake committed by Janez Janša and his government in 2005 when Mercator was sold to buyers who did not have the means needed for this on their accounts".

NLB owns around 10% of Mercator while it also has an important ownership stake in beverage group Pivovarna Laško, which is selling a 23% stake in the grocer.

Referring to the 2006 sale by state-run funds of a controlling stake in Mercator to Pivovarna Lasko and the insolvent Istrabenz holding, Bratušek said that the deal meant that the current government was not responsible for what is going on with Mercator now.

She was moreover critical of NLB for its "inexplicable" failure to forward to the government or to the Slovenia Sovereign Holding (SDH) additional information on the sale, which the government requested on 12 June.

Commenting on this, NLB boss Medja said that the information requested clearly involved business secrets related to an ongoing transaction whose disclosure could cause major damage to the bank.

As regards Bratušek's statements, Medja said that being a banker he has not intention of publicly debating the transaction. "I think politicians should also stick to this principle."

He moreover reminded the government of the "very clear" commitments made to the European Commission in return for winning approval for the bailout of NLB in December last year: that NLB needs to sell non-strategic investments and that top-standard corporate management be secured at the bank without interference in its policies.

While saying that he agreed with many things raised by Bratušek, Medja said that NLB was already acting with maximum care. The management's first responsibility is to the bank and its results, but it is also mindful of the broader picture.


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