Croatian retailer Fortenova takes back control of Mercator chain

ZAGREB, March 12 (Reuters) - Food company Fortenova has taken back control of Slovenia’s largest retail chain Mercator after shareholders approved the deal, along with a share swap, which raises the stake of Russia’s Sberbank, the Croatian group’s biggest shareholder.

The transaction is a final step in a broader restructuring of Fortenova’s predecessor Agrokor which was saved from bankruptcy in 2017 through a deal with international creditors.

In April 2019, all other Agrokor assets except Mercator were transferred to Fortenova.

Slovenia’s Competition Protection Agency seized Agrokor’s Mercator shares over a disputed fine imposed on Agrokor for alleged failure to report on time a revised market concentration after acquiring a small bottled water producer.

Last year, Slovenia’s Supreme Court ordered that Mercator shares must be returned to Agrokor and European Union antitrust regulators approved Fortenova’s reintegration of Mercator.

Agrokor had acquired control of Mercator in 2014, but after April 2019 all other Agrokor assets except Mercator were transferred to Fortenova.

Following shareholder approval of the share swap, Sberbank’s 18.5% stake in Mercator will be transferred to Fortenova. Sberbank’s holding in Fortenova will rise to 44% from 39%, Fortenova said in a statement on Friday.

Also, Fortenova shareholders, which include banks and investment funds, approved a loan from Fortenova to Mercator worth up to 390 million euros ($465.04 million) to refinance Mercator’s bank debt.

$1 = 0.8386 euros Reporting by Igor Ilic. Editing by Jane Merriman