Russia's Sberbank buys stake in food firm from Croatia's Agrokor

LJUBLJANA, July 7 (Reuters) - Sberbank said on Friday it had acquired a stake worth 40.6 million euros ($46.25 million) in Slovenian food retailer Mercator from Agrokor, helping reduce the struggling Croatian food group’s debts with the Russian bank.

Agrokor, the biggest employer in the Balkans with about 60,000 staff, was put under state management in April after piling up debts amounting to at least 40.4 billion kuna ($6 billion) during a rapid expansion in the region.

Sberbank, which is the Croatian firm’s biggest creditor, acquired 18.53 percent of Mercator at an auction which was initiated by the Russian bank.

Sberbank had said the sale of the Mercator stake would cut Agrokor’s debt to the bank. Agrokor still owns about 70 percent of Mercator.

“Sberbank fully understands Mercator’s crucial role for the Slovenian economy and will act in the best interest of the company,” the bank said in a statement.

Apart from Sberbank, Russian VTB bank and several Croatian banks are among Agrokor’s creditors, as well as Agrokor bondholders and suppliers. ($1 = 6.5014 kuna) ($1 = 0.8779 euros) (Reporting By Marja Novak; Editing by Edmund Blair)