Swiss investment company Ruvercap, through which Swiss Batagon International purchased Fabrika akumulatora Sombor (Battery Factory Sombor), is experiencing huge financial problems these days, which also jeopardize the work of some banks and pension funds in Switzerland.
Over the past several months, the Swiss media have written about the suspicious investments made by Ruvercap in the countries of West Balkans and the main topic are the financial transactions with Batagon, owned by Dalibor Matic, who, according to media reports, has been arrested on suspicion that he had taken part in money laundering.
As VOICE has already reported, Matic purchased Fabrika akumulatora Sombor in liquidation at the end of 2017 for EUR 7.35 million. However, the Swiss media write that Batagon actually purchased “Fabrika akumulatora” through Ruvercap at the end of 2017.
“The transaction included a credit line plus the factory as warranty. However, the investors are suspicious that Batagon used the total amount of stated EUR 63.7 million for the purchase,” writes Swiss portal finews.ch.
“Fabrika” sold after six attempts
FAS was sold in liquidation after six attempts. The first selling price was EUR 3.6 million, which was seen as unacceptable by the representative of former employees at the Board of Trustees and other four board members, as well. The same outcome followed Batagon’s offer of EUR 4.5 million, i.e. EUR 5.05 million. IFC (branch of the World Bank) from Washington accepted bids of six and later seven million euros, but the sale was unsuccessful because the other three board members were against it.
It was only when an offer of EUR 7.35 million was accepted by the representative of Mediolanum Invest (who bought out the outstanding debt from Banca Intesa) that the sale of FAS in liquidation was made official on December 1, 2019. Komercijalna banka abstained, while the representative of Turkish Hall Bank voted against the sale.
With the sale of FAS, all secured creditors (IFC, Hall bank, Komercijalna banka and Mediolanum Invest) released the mortgage from the factory’s assets. On December 20, the Commercial Court in Sombor was notified by the administrative receiver Predrag Ljubovic that Batagon had paid EUR 7.35 million the day before. Consequently, on January 17, the Commercial Court made a decision to suspend insolvency proceedings and make Batagon the owner of all assets without any liabilities towards other creditors or tax authorities.
The new owner of the factory, Dalibor Matic, rarely appeared during the selling process. His authorised representative was lawyer Dejan Simic, known to the general public because of the Suitcase affair. This affair broke out in 2006, when Simic, the vice-governor of the National Bank of Serbia (NBS) at the time, was accused by representatives of the Dunav TBI Group of having asked for a bribe of EUR 2 million in order to provide this company a permit from NBS for operating in the financial leasing sector.
The media reported that the affair also included the minister of interior at the time, Ivica Dacic. Simić claimed that Dacic had left his apartment 15 minutes before the police burst into it and found a suitcase with EUR 100,000. In 2011, Simic was effectively acquitted from the charges.
Some pension funds facing problems due to investments in Ruvercap
Swiss portal insideparadeplatz.ch writes that Ruvercap could suffer great losses due to poor business results. This also affected some Swiss pension funds, which are now losing a lot of money. “In this case alone, we are talking about a loss of CHF 500 million. However, the total amount could be higher,” said an insider to the portal.
“Ruvercap had three funds. They used to finance the so-called factoring and lending. This actually means that they were involved in pre-financing the suppliers’ accounts. The story was centred around three funds in Ireland: one in Swiss francs, one in euros and one in American dollars,” writes the Swiss portal, for which the representatives of Ruvercap did not want to comment on the recently emerged financial crisis.
This is the Quayside Fund Management Fund from Ireland, run by the Central Bank of Ireland. The fund was established in 2014 and it operates as an alternative investment fund for placements within the European Economic Area (EEA).
VOICE has sent a number of questions to the management of the Irish fund regarding the operations involving Swiss Ruvercap, but no answer has been received. Just like the Swiss portals that were interested in losses caused by Ruvercap’s operations, VOICE too has been deprived of the answers to many questions, including the one related to possible termination of cooperation with the Swiss company and its investments in the Western Balkans.
Apart from the damage clearly suffered by this Irish fund, luzernerzeitung.ch also reports on the losses in the pension fund of the Zug town (PK) that could not imagine what financial result their investment in Ruvercap’s financial instruments would have. With the newly incurred losses of at least EUR 500 million, the pension fund of Zug is also experiencing financial troubles.
PK has transferred its investment strategy into sustainable investments, which Ruvercap’s funds belonged to. as well. According to a report by the president of PK Karl Kobelt, they had expected a good return on investment, but instead experienced a loss of CHF 2.5 million as early as in 2019. In 2019, PK had 1,139 active policy-holders ad 458 pensioners. The account balance was CHF 534 million.
While the financial situation started to unravel in Switzerland, there is no sign of a similar process in Serbia. On the contrary, Fabrika akumulatora, according to local media, worked during the state of emergency with a lower capacity and exported batteries to the markets in Europe and Russia.
Resignations in Ruvercap due to wrong investments in the Balkans
The unsettled situation in Ruvercap has led to the resignation of a member of theGraubündner Kantonalbank (GKB)Council, Thomas Huber. Huber was also in Batagon’s Board of Directors, while finews.ch associates him with the purchase of Pavlovic banka in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
GKB accepted Huber’s resignation, without explaining his rationale for the decision. The investors in this bank, including numerous Swiss pension funds, banks and family offices, are now afraid that they might suffer great financial losses as a consequence of working with Ruvercap.
“Huber is much more involved: he is in the Managing Board of Batagon, one of the companies that performed transactions on behalf of Ruvercap Investment in the Balkans,“ this portal writes, adding that Huber said he had heard about GKB’s involvement with Ruvercap only a year before. Swiss media insist that this claim is false and that he was aware of the risk of his activities at Batagon from the beginning.
Batagon tried to purchase companies in Bosnia and Herzegovina through the Government of the Republic of Srpska
The media in Bosnia and Herzegovina have also written extensively about Batagon. Most texts were related to the company’s intentions to take over the companies it had been interested in for a while, as well as other companies in Bosnia and Herzegovina. One of those companies is Pavgord from Foca, which was recently, along with Batagon and Galens Invest, among the biggest shareholders of Pavlovic banka (now “Nasa banka”).
The Zvornički.baportal published a text in February 2019 in which it claimed that Batagon, “as a company without history or money records, is buying out the claims of the Government of the Republic of Srpska against Alumina and taking over that company for EUR 43 million”. However, this transaction did not happen, so the government of this entity terminated the contract with Batagon.
The capital.ba also wrote in mid-2019 about the intentions of Batagon to buy out the claims of Pavgord fom Faca against the Birac Aluminium Factory and its daughter companies, but that the amount of KM 122.6 million would be paid by Alumina in 24 equal instalments.
Finally, the insajder.in portal published a text two months later in which it claimed that Batagon had not given up on the purchase of Alumina and Birac, but had instead accused the court in Zvornik, which disputed the contract this company had with the Government of the Republic of Srpska and the obligation to pay EUR 43 million to the budget.
Pavgord from Foca, already mentioned here, has been trying for years to take over Birac, against which Ukio Bank from Lithuania claims KM 155 million. Pavgord bought KM 12.5 million worth of claims, but has never been registered as a creditor. Namely, the administrative receiver of Birac claims the contract between Pavgord and Ukio Bank stipulates the outstanding claims of KM 195 million, while Ukio Bank claims that only KM 122 million worth of claims have been transferred from Birac to Pavgord.
The District Commercial Court in Bijeljina refused to register Pavgord in the list of creditors instead of the Lithuanian bank, so Pavgord and Ukio Bank filed a complaint with the Higher Commercial Court in Banjaluka. The case was returned to be reconsidered by the court in Bijeljina. In the meantime, Pavgort’s lawyers wrote to the president of the Republic of Srpska, Milorad Dodik, complaining that they had been trying unsuccessfully to establish cooperation with the management of Alumina from 2015, i.e. with the administrative receiver and the Board of Trustees.
The owner of Pavgord has been Gordan Pavlovic since it was established in 1993. He is also the owner of a coal mine in Miljevina, near Foca. Pavlovic is a member of Dodik’s Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD). Between 2002 and 2013, he was buying segments or whole companies in insolvency proceedings and privatisation: Tehnokom and Maglic from Foca, Visegrad promet and Panos from Visegrad, a hotel in Rudo, “Bosanka” factory in Doboj, as well the “Motins” automotive parts factory in Novi Sad.
Although Ruvercap Investment denies having a close cooperation with Batagon, they did not deny having received credits from companies in Luxemburg and Germany, which was a decision of the Investment Board. A co-owner of Ruvercap Investment is Marc Clapasson, but he was not a member of the Investment Board.
Swiss media claim that Clapasson controls one of former Batagon’s companies and that “he is obviously a good friend of the alleged owner, Dalibor Matic, since they watched the match between Serbia and Switzerland at the football World Cup together in Kaliningrad”.
Tour of the Balkans
As the investigation of finws.ch shows, Batagon was on a real buying tour in the Balkans with Swiss pension funds. In the early 2019, Pavlović banka declared that Batagon was taking part in its capital increase and that it would first buy around 20 percent of the shares, so that it could take control over the bank at a later date.
This portal also writes that the funds from Swiss pension funds were used without their knowledge to purchase a bank owned by Slobodan Pavlovic and three of his employees arrested in 2016 on the charges of money laundering. At one moment, Batagon owned more than 20 percent of the shares, but used some of them to cover the losses in 2018 and ended up with 18.5 percent of the shares. After that, in the middle of 2019, the biggest shareholders, with 22 percent of the shares, respectively, became Galens Invest, construction company from Novi Sad, and Pavgord from Foca.
Then, in October last year, Galens Invest and Pavgord decided to change the members of the Supervisory Board of the bank appointed by Batagon. One of the replaced members is an official from the ruling party, Dodik’s Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, Dragan Ridjosic.
Soon afterwards, the investors decided to buy the shares of Pavlovic banka from Batagon, when the capital increase reached around EUR 3.4 million. Earlier this year, Batagon sold the shares of the bank, which new owners renamed to Nasa banka. The biggest buyer was Keso-gradnja, construction company from Zvornik, which now owns around 15 percent of the shares.
According to the records of the Central Securities Depository, on July 16, 2020, Keso-Gradnja owned 15.1 percent of the shares of Nasa banka, i.e. 20.2 percent of voting rights. This transaction with Batagonwas realised on February 5, through a block transaction at the Banja Luka Stock Exchange, in a deal worth KM 1.76 million.
Batagon entered the field of real estate and hotel management through Ruvercop. First, in November 2019, Batagon bought the Bistrica hotel on Jahorina for around KM 6 million. They also planned to build a luxury hotel on Jahorina. However, in March 2019, the media reported that Batagon had to terminate that construction project “due to increased prices of land on Jahorina”.
Instead of all that, the reasons for Batagon’s failures with these projects have led to the drying out of Ruvercap Investment money sources. Since the assets are now frozen, no assets from the funds can be used for future acquisitions of companies or other projects.
Darko Šper (VOICE, cover photo: Fabrika akumulatora Sombor, photo: SOinfo)