Stolichnaya-owner says in talks on rival vodka maker CEDC

MOSCOW Tue Mar 5, 2013 1:19pm EST

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Stolichnaya Vodka-owner SPI Group said on Tuesday it was holding talks with Russian financial interests regarding Poland's indebted Central European Distribution Corp CEDC.O, one of the world's largest vodka producers.

Shares in Nasdaq-listed CEDC have plunged by over 80 percent so far this year to $0.67, hit by financial problems, the resignation of its chief executive and recent battles with shareholders over control of the company.

The most pressing problem for CEDC, which makes Absolwent and Parliament vodka, is that it has $258 million in convertible loan notes maturing on March 15 and last week it was reported in a U.S. regulatory filing that the A1 investment arm of Russia's Alfa Group was interested in putting together a rescue consortium that would involve CEDC's two biggest shareholders.

Russian billionaire and CEDC chairman Roustam Tariko holds a 20.2 percent stake via his Moscow-based vodka to financial services conglomerate Russian Standard Corporation, according to Thomson Reuters data, while CEDC's second biggest shareholder is Mark Kaufman, with 9.22 percent.

SPI, which holds 2013 and 2016 loan notes in CEDC, said on Tuesday it has appointed Nomura (9716.T) to "evaluate alternatives" with regards to CEDC but did not elaborate on what those alternatives were.

"We are carefully observing the situation around CEDC," said Val Mendeleev, chief executive of SPI in an emailed statement. "We have already begun preliminary discussions with a few strong financial players in Russia who could be interested in considering the CEDC business together with us."

A representative for SPI declined to comment further and no one at SPI's office in Luxembourg had any immediate comment. It was not immediately clear whether SPI and Tariko were acting together in a possible debt-for-equity swap.

CEDC, which has a leading share of the vodka markets in Russia, Hungary and Poland, said in a filing that it was reviewing a proposal from Tariko and certain beneficial owners of its notes, but these were not identified.

(Reporting By Megan Davies; Edited by Greg Mahlich and Clelia Oziel)

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