Croatia's Agrokor accepts debt claims for $6.35 billion, disputes Sberbank's claim

ZAGREB (Reuters) - Insolvent Croatian food and retail conglomerate Agrokor [AGROK.UL] recognises creditor claims worth 41.2 billion kuna ($6.35 billion) but disputes other claims totalling 16.5 billion kuna, including that of Russia’s Sberbank, its biggest single creditor, the administrator said on Thursday.

Agrokor, the biggest employer in the Balkans with around

60,000 staff, was put into state-run administration in April and has until July 2018 to achieve a final settlement with creditors to avoid bankruptcy.

Its founder Ivica Todoric, who was detained and released on bail in London on Tuesday, and 14 other people are being investigated over Agrokor’s problems.

Agrokor’s creditors include bondholders, local and foreign banks as well as suppliers. The biggest single debt, around 1.1 billion euros, is held by Sberbank.

But the administrator said the size of Sberbank’s claim remained open to dispute because it had launched legal proceedings against Agrokor companies in other countries, including Serbia and Bosnia, to get some of the debt repaid.

Administrator Ante Ramljak said that if Sberbank withdraws these legal proceedings its debt could be recognised.

“We are in permanent communication (with Sberbank),” Ramljak said.

Sberbank said in a statement it was “unpleasantly surprised” with Agrokor’s stance.

“Everyone, including Sberbank, can resort to any legally allowed measure, in Croatia or in other countries, to protect its interests and must not be discriminated against because of that,” the statement said. Sberbank added it would file an appeal against Agrokor’s decision.

Ramljak said that Sberbank could not block the final settlement with creditors since that requires the backing of creditors holding at least 66 percent of the claims. Sberbank’s claims amount to less than 20 percent.

Agrokor earlier said that Sberbank could net up to 115 million euros from all its proceedings outside Croatia.

“If they participated in this (restructuring) process in an amicable manner, they could surely secure that amount, maybe even more,” Ramljak said.

He did not want to speculate on likely write-offs, but analysts reckon that some creditors would have to accept write-offs of up to 70 percent.

Ramljak said that no companies within Agrokor group would be offered for sale before the final settlement.

“We see strong interest in (some) Agrokor firms, but there will be no sale until the creditors agree on the settlement,” he said.

Reporting by Igor Ilic, Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise