Russian investor working on plan for Saab stake

STOCKHOLM Thu Jul 28, 2011 11:17am EDT

A Saab logo covered with rain drops is seen on a vehicle in Zurich, June 24, 2011.REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

A Saab logo covered with rain drops is seen on a vehicle in Zurich, June 24, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Christian Hartmann

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STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Russian businessman Vladimir Antonov is working on a plan for Saab to pay back a loan from the European Investment Bank, the lender which he says has vetoed his proposal to buy into the ailing carmaker.

Antonov has been waiting in the wings to take a stake in Swedish Automobile SWAN.AS, the listed entity that owns Saab, but his spokesman said on Thursday that the EIB had decided not to approve the Russian as a shareholder.

"We are working on a way to be rid of the EIB loan," Lars Carlstrom said. "We hope to present a solution in the near future."

Carlstrom added that a deal was probably several weeks off.

The EIB, which has not made any statement about Antonov's application to take a stake in Swedish Automobile, declined to comment.

Antonov needs the approval of the EIB, the Swedish government, and former Saab owner GM (GM.N) to take a stake in Saab. This is because the government has guaranteed a loan to Saab from the EIB and GM still has preference shares in Saab.

Sweden's Debt Office said in April it found no reason to block Antonov as a shareholder. The government has said it was waiting on the EIB. GM has given conditional approval for Antonov's investment.

"We have been clear all along. When the EIB and GM give their approval, we are ready to do the same," said Ministry of Enterprise spokeswoman Johanna Martin. The government has not been told of the EIB's decision and has not made any decision on Antonov itself, she added.

CASH SHORTFALL

Saab had been hoping to get the go-ahead for Antonov from the EIB, which has loaned the Swedish carmaker 217 million euros, so that it can solve a cash crunch.

The firm has produced almost no cars since suppliers pulled the plug on shipping new parts in April.

Saab hasn't come to a deal with all its suppliers yet and doesn't expect to restart production until the end of August.

Last week, a creditor filed the first bankruptcy application against Saab over a debt of 5.9 million Swedish crowns

($928,800).

Saab settled the claim on the same day the bankruptcy filing became public.

This week, Saab said it didn't have enough money to pay around 1,600 white-collar staff.

The union representing the unpaid workers said it was taking action to recover the money, a process that could lead it to request courts declare Saab bankrupt.

"If they don't pay within 14 days or so, we will seek bankruptcy," Unionen General Counsel Martin Wastfelt told Reuters.

He estimated it would take about a month for such a process.

Antonov has been trying to become a shareholder since Swedish Automobile, then Spyker, bought Saab early last year.

He owned nearly 30 percent of Spyker, but was forced to sell for the Saab deal to go through.

Antonov's spokesman Carlstrom blamed the Swedish government for the EIB's decision, saying the bank was taking its cue from politicians.

"The Swedish government has stopped us investing 100 million euros ($143.6 million) in Saab," he said. "They are ready to risk 4,000 jobs."

Antonov, who was ousted from Swedish Automobile's deal to buy Saab from General Motors in 2010, has been the target of allegations of money laundering, which he has denied.

Sweden's Debt Office said in April it found "no reason to say no" to Antonov. The Swedish government has said it was waiting on the EIB, while GM has given a conditional approval for Antonov's investment.

Saab's search for funds has involved a sale and leaseback of its plant and property and deals with Chinese car distributor Pangda (601258.SS) and carmaker Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile Co, which need Chinese regulatory approval.

(Editing by Jane Merriman and Sitaraman Shankar)

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