Sweden's debt office on April 28 approved a controversial Russian businessman as a new investor in Saab, offering a glimmer of hope the struggling carmaker will scrape together enough cash to relaunch production.
"The National Debt Office has not found any reason to deny an application from Saab and (its Dutch owner) Spyker for Vladimir Antonov to become a shareholder," the government agency said.
Antonov is a former Spyker shareholder, who was blocked from taking a stake in Saab when the Dutch company saved it from bankruptcy in January 2010 by buying it from GM. He was prevented from getting involved in the iconic carmaker due to concerns over his business dealings and rumors of ties to organized crime.
"There have been a lot of rumors going around that have led to us conducting this probe. But we have not found anything to indicate that he is not a suitable owner," said NDO chief Bo Lundgren. "When you talk to him, it is obvious that he is genuinely interested in Saab," he added.
Antonov himself said: "I am very happy finally getting the recommendation from the NDO... The past months of speculations around me, as an individual investor and my businesses has been exhausting."
"Finally we have managed to obtain a clean bill of health and we need to move fast forward to secure the cash flow of Saab Automobile," he said.
The NDO announcement came three weeks after Saab announced it would be shutting production "until further notice," amid conflicts with suppliers over unpaid bills.
With several Saab suppliers warning of layoffs, the company has said it is also looking into raising funds by partnering with "various Chinese car manufacturers," without providing further details.
Spyker chief executive Victor Muller however voiced optimism that all the parties involved would soon approve Antonov as a new shareholder.
"This is a great day for our company and for me personally. We worked relentlessly for 11 months to achieve the desired result: restore the reputation of Vladimir Antonov, who made so many valuable contributions to Spyker since 2007 as financier and shareholder," he said in the Spyker statement.
"We are convinced he will be able to make such contributions again in the near future and look forward to the decisions of the Swedish Government, General Motors and the European Investment Bank (EIB), following the recommendation of the NDO," he added.
The NDO, which has a say in Saab's ownership since it has guaranteed a 400-million-euro (US$580-million) European Investment Bank loan to the company, said it had received a request on March 29 from Saab and Spyker for Antonov to be allowed in. He would pay up to 30 million euros for a maximum of 29.9% of voting rights, the NDO statement said.
It could take a while however before the Swedish carmaker sees any of that cash, since the Swedish government, the EIB and Saab's previous owner and current shareholder GM still need to back the ownership change.
While the government in Stockholm will likely back the NDO's decision, and GM told Swedish media it would agree to the change of ownership on certain conditions, the EIB may prove more difficult to convince. The bank has already been dragging its feet to approve another cash-raising scheme that has received the green light from Sweden and the NDO. That refinancing plan calls for the NDO to release its security in Saab Property -- including the company's plant in Trollheattan in western Sweden -- used to guarantee the EIB loan, so Spyker can sell it and lease it back.
The plan is separate from the proposed ownership change, but Antonov is also the anticipated buyer of Saab Property.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2011
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