Croatia's Fortenova says it was not notified of Sberbank's stake sale

A view shows the logo of Sber (Sberbank) at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in Saint Petersburg, Russia June 15, 2022. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov

SARAJEVO, Nov 3 (Reuters) - Croatian food producer and retailer Fortenova Grupa said on Thursday it had not been officially notified of a deal that Russian state bank Sberbank Rossii PAO (SBER.MM) reached to sell its 43% stake in the company.

Formerly known as Agrokor, Fortenova is one of the biggest companies in southeastern Europe. It was saved from bankruptcy in a restructuring deal with local and foreign creditors in mid-2018, which included a change of name and ownership structure making Sberbank the biggest single shareholder.

In a brief statement on Wednesday, Sberbank, currently subject to Western sanctions, said its stake had been bought by Saif Bin Markhan Alketbi, an investor from the United Arab Emirates.

On Thursday it added that the sale was completed on Oct. 31, when the bank received the entire amount for the deal "in strict accordance with all international legal rules and standards without any violations".

"Sberbank is no longer a shareholder of the company and is not associated with it, but wishes it further success in developing in the international market," it said in a statement.

Fortenova said it had no official knowledge of the deal.

"The Sberbank property is under sanctions and it is necessary to obtain special permits from the bodies authorized for the implementation of sanctions to conduct the sale," the company said in a statement to Reuters.

The European Union placed Sberbank under sanctions in June, cutting it off from the SWIFT international transaction system after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Fortenova said previously interested buyers of Sberbank's stake had either failed to obtain necessary permits or the deals were stopped for other reasons.

"According to the Fortenova Group findings, no other permits for the sale have been issued so we cannot see how a valid deal could be done," the company said, adding that no new due diligence of the company has been conducted.

"If the sanctions have been avoided, it is a criminal act and the company did not take part in it," Fortenova said in the statement.

Sberbank said that notification on the change of ownership has been sent to the company in strict accordance with the law, which means it must be done within 7 days from the moment of the transaction.

Croatia's State Secretary Frano Matusic said the government did not know about the transaction nor has it been involved in it in any way. He said that under the EU sanctions regime Sberbank was given an end-October deadline to sell its stakes in companies but that it needed to have necessary permits.

Russian No.2 lender VTB (VTBR.MM), also under Western sanctions, owns 7.39% of Fortenova.

(This story has been corrected to fix VTB stake to Fortenova from Sberbank in the final paragraph)

Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Jan Harvey, Kirsten Donovan

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