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Slovak Agrobanka branch privatized by the "Trnava group" headed by Slovakofarma, Biotika

Agrobanka, the insolvent Czechoslovak bank whose Slovak branch announced last fall that it would tender its assets separately from those of its Czech parent, has been purchased by a group of Slovak companies led by the pharmaceutical firm Slovakofarma. The Slovak National Bank's (NBS) Banking Supervisory Board Chairman, Tibor Kašiak, on April 4 told The Slovak Spectator that the NBS had made no decision about the Slovak branch-bank's buyers.
On April 2 the Czech daily Mladá Fronta Dnes reported that Agrobanka's Slovak subsidiary in Banská Bystrica was sold to an alliance of investors comprising the two pharmaceutical firms Slovakofarma in Hlohovec and Biotika in Slovenská Ľupča, the insulation manufacturer Izomat, in Nová Baňa, and Nafta, the gas storage company in Gbely. The report, which referred to Agrobanka's four new owners as "the Trnava group," said the companies have "close ties" to the ruling Slovak coalition party, HZDS.

Agrobanka, the insolvent Czechoslovak bank whose Slovak branch announced last fall that it would tender its assets separately from those of its Czech parent, has been purchased by a group of Slovak companies led by the pharmaceutical firm Slovakofarma. The Slovak National Bank's (NBS) Banking Supervisory Board Chairman, Tibor Kašiak, on April 4 told The Slovak Spectator that the NBS had made no decision about the Slovak branch-bank's buyers.

On April 2 the Czech daily Mladá Fronta Dnes reported that Agrobanka's Slovak subsidiary in Banská Bystrica was sold to an alliance of investors comprising the two pharmaceutical firms Slovakofarma in Hlohovec and Biotika in Slovenská Ľupča, the insulation manufacturer Izomat, in Nová Baňa, and Nafta, the gas storage company in Gbely. The report, which referred to Agrobanka's four new owners as "the Trnava group," said the companies have "close ties" to the ruling Slovak coalition party, HZDS.

Agrobanka's deputy director, František Skaloš, said the bank has signed "a valid purchase agreement" with its new owners, but that the NBS has yet to grant the group a license to transfer ownership of the bank. Nevertheless, Skaloš said he expects the new bank, whose registered capital stands at 5 billion Sk, to begin operating by "early May."

The Slovak bank

While the Slovak and Czech branches of Agrobanka have been privatized separately, official sources indicate that the Czech bank's new ownership includes a host of foreign banks, while Agrobanka's Slovak assets now look sure to remain in Slovak hands.

On September 16-17, the Czech National Bank (CNB) imposed an interim administration on Agrobanka, whose debt had risen to 10 million Kč ($400,000). The so-called "forced administration" applied also to Agrobanka's Slovak branch, which subsequently announced its wish to separate from its parent institution in the Czech Republic.

"We've had trouble in the Slovak Republic," said Jozef Vejlupek, the deputy director of the Prague branch office of Agrobanka, "because the National Bank of Slovakia [NBS] refused to give us the license for our bank. Agreements are signed, and now we are waiting for solutions from the NBS." Although he could not be reached for comment following Skaloš's announcement to the press on April 1, Ján Onda, a NBS spokesman, earlier identified the same group of investors Mladá Fronta Dnes had reported were now the Slovak branch's new owners.

Asked how Agrobanka's Slovak privatization would potentially affect its loans primarily to the country's agricultural sector, Onda said Agrobanka's Slovak branch will be "a universal bank because the interested buyers are seeking a full license; that means loan activities, foreign partnerships and other activities." The Slovak branch-bank's new owners must provide "evidence of their financial ability to buy the bank, along with their intentions for the bank in the first three years."

Onda added that the Slovak bank's privatization will not affect relations with the Czech bank despite the latter's astral debt. Vejlupek added that the Slovak bank's assets and liabilities will be turned over to its respective new owners.

Vejlupek admitted that the Czech bank's registered capital is 4 billion Kč ($153 million). Onda was less forthcoming about the Slovak bank's assets. "According to law, the branch offices of foreign banks don't have to have registered capital, but they must have bank deposits [worth at least] 500 million Sk ($16.6 million)." Onda agreed with Vejlupek that because Agrobanka had had "major losses," it is in "our interest to sell the Slovak branch."

The Czech Bank

Vejlupek confirmed that on March 14, the Czech National Bank "adopted a solution to restructure Agrobanka and to sell part of the bank to a new strategic investor, which will be done by [ING] Barings Bank." However, the decision who will own the bank he said is still in question.

"Frankly speaking, I don't know," Vejlupek said. "It is a secret between us and those with whom we're negotiating." However, Vejlupek said the bank had learned "there are about 15 companies and banks interested in buying [the Czech branch of] Agrobanka," adding, "We've received strong spontaneous interest" from the Dutch bank ABN AMRO, General Electric, the German Deutsche Gemeinschaft Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), which is "ready to buy 20 percent together with another investor." Also interested are ING, Barings Bank in London, and the Austrian Reiffeisen Bank.

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