Croatia's Fortenova says Slovenia seeking to expropriate its Mercator stake

ZAGREB, Dec 18 (Reuters) - Croatia’s largest food producer and retailer Fortenova Grupa, formerly known as Agrokor, said on Wednesday it feared Slovenia was trying to expropriate the stake it owns in Slovenia’s largest retail chain Mercator.

Agrokor became Fortenova in April 2019 after being put into state administration in April 2017 then rescued through a deal with creditors in July 2018.

Earlier this year, the company launched a procedure in Slovenia to legally transfer the 69.57% of Mercator’s shares owned by Agrokor to Fortenova.

However, Fortenova said Slovenia’s competition protection agency had seized Agrokor’s Mercator shares this week over a disputed fine it imposed on Agrokor.

Slovenia’s competition protection agency fined Agrokor 53.9 million euros ($59.41 million) in September 2019 for failing to report on time its revised market concentration after it acquired a small bottled water producer. Agrokor has appealed the ruling and a court decision is pending.

Fortenova said Slovenia had seized the shares as a guarantee for payment of the fine and it feared the competition agency had deliberately imposed the fine “as a means to expropriate Mercator’s shares”.

“The contested fine itself is disproportionate as the (Mercator) shares have an appraised value exceeding 140 million euros,” Fortenova said.

The Slovenian Competition Protection Agency gave no immediate comment.

“We shall continue to protect our property with all available legal means. We have informed the embassies of all European Union member states in Slovenia as well as the U.S. and Russian embassies given the nationalities of our key investors,” Fortenova said.

Fortenova is owned by Russian banks Sberbank and VTB, as well as some U.S. investment funds. ($1 = 0.9073 euros) (Reporting by Igor Ilic in Zagreb and Marja Novak in Ljubljana Editing by Alexandra Hudson)