PRISTINA, July 24 (Reuters) - Albania’s Balfin Group has agreed to buy Kosovo’s sole ferro-nickel producer Newco Ferronikeli in a rescue deal aimed at restoring operations that were halted when the heavily indebted company ran into financial difficulties.
Hit by low nickel prices in recent years, the ferro-nickel mine and smelter based in Kosovo’s central region of Drenas has been unable to pay its 800 workers for months and halted operations in March.
“Balfin Group is proud to announce that it has successfully signed an agreement to acquire 100 percent of the shares of Newco Ferronikeli,” privately owned Balfin said in a statement late on Monday without providing financial details.
Balfin said it will control the shares through UK-based NKL Limited, which in June this year bought them from Cunico Resources. Ferronikeli has changed hands several times since it was privatised in 2005.
“Balfin will immediately inject sufficient funds to restart the plant and bring it back to full production in August while agreeing to repay existing debts to suppliers of the company as soon as possible as well as paying outstanding salaries,” it said.
One of Kosovo’s big employers, Ferronikeli’s contracts have also created more than 1,000 jobs outside the company.
Balfin said it plans to increase production of ferronickel from 7,200 tonnes a year to more than 10,000 tonnes.
In neighbouring Albania, Balfin took over Albchrome, which has a concession for the Bulqiza chrome mine and a ferrochromium smelter, after the Austrian company managing it faced strikes.
Balfin owns several shopping malls in Albania and has revealed plans to build a mega mall in Macedonia’s capital Skopje. It is active in real estate both in the capital Tirana and in coastal areas. (Reporting by Fatos Bytyci Editing by Benet Koleka and David Goodman)