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NLB chairman calls for privatisation blueprint

Ljubljana, 16 April (STA) - Blaž Brodnjak, the chairman of Slovenia's biggest bank NLB, has urged the government to design a binding blueprint for privatisation. He believes this would be the basis for tackling all of the bank's issues, including the damage claims over Yugoslav-era deposits in Croatia.

The blueprint for selling the bank, which Slovenia has committed to do in exchange for the European Commission's approval of state aid in 2013, would be the basis for protecting NLB's assets in Croatia, and it would maximise NLB's value, Brodnjak told the press on Monday as he presented the bank's business results for 2017.

It would also allow the bank to get the approval from the European Central Bank (ECB) to pay out dividends for last year, Brodnjak believes.

He stressed that uncertainty over the privatisation of the bank, which made a record EUR 189.1m in net profit last year, has to be eliminated. "We want to get a strategically acceptable mid-term framework for the bank quickly," Brodnjak added.

The bank has fulfilled its commitments to the Commission with regards to operations, including reducing total assets and limiting its market operations. Brodnjak said the bank could not imagine potential new commitments.

NLB could pay out the entire 2017 net profit in dividends, but the ECB has decided that it must get require its approval for any payout.

According to Brodnjak, NLB will draft an emergency capital plan for the ECB to argue in favour of the payout. It is unclear how long it will take for the ECB to decide, he added.

In general, the bank "is very well prepared for privatisation and is waiting for directives from Slovenian Sovereign Holding (SSH)". It can carry out all procedures in a fortnight.

Turning to the issue of lawsuits over Croatian deposits in LB, from which NLB was created in 1994, Brodnjak noted the bank "is waiting what will happen" when the next final court ruling comes.

The bank has been given clear directive from SSH that it must not pay the damages, "but this does not resolve the problems", Brodnjak said.

"Prohibiting the payment of a final ruling in the EU does not constitute protection for the bank," he noted and added that default interest was amassing since the ruling became final.

The bank is incurring huge damage and a final ruling immediately impacts the results because provisions have to be formed for it.

The chairman does not believe that parliamentary efforts to shield NLB from the lawsuits will actually protect the bank because there is no solution for recompensing the bank for the damage.

All NLB assets outside Slovenia can be enforced, because it cannot be foreseen if courts in the EU would agree with Slovenia's argument that the issue falls under Yugoslav succession.

Brodnjak believes that a solution should be a state guarantee or some other instrument that would enable the bank to be reimbursed for the incurred damage and maximise its value.

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