Greek still keen on HGAA

A Greek businessman is offering more than one billion Euros for ailing Hypo Group Alpe Adria (HGAA), it has emerged.Gernot Pointner, a spokesman for Vasileios Xeniadis, announced today (Fri) the investor was ready to cough up 1.35 billion Euros “immediately” if the Austrian government met him for talks.HGAA had to be nationalised last year following years of soaring losses. Former decision-makers at the bank are accused of having downplayed negative business figures for many years.Pointner explained the Xeniadis Group made clear last December – when the coalition of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and People’s Party (ÖVP) saw itself forced to rescue the institute – it was willing to invest 450 million Euros before upping its offer to twice the sum half a year later.Xeniadis was, according to reports, previously interested in the bank’s yachts, planes and real estate. Now the Greek businessman’s spokesman said he wanted to take over HGAA in full.Pointner said Xeniadis – whose company is headquartered in the Greek port city of Piraeus – would ensure none of HGAA’s branches in south-eastern Europe would be shut. Instead, Pointner said, the plan was to open facilities in Greece.The Xeniadis Group official said his boss would not hesitate to convince the SPÖ-ÖVP coalition and HGAA’s current board he could afford snatching up the bank.”A bank guarantee of two billion Euros by HSBC for an offer to purchase HGAA already exists,” he said, adding: “Mister Xeniadis would arrive within three hours if asked to meet decision-makers for negotiations in Vienna.”Pointner made clear the Xeniadis Group would neither back out from bidding for one of HGAA’s most prestigious properties regardless of how the bank’s board and the Austrian government rated its offer to fully take over the struggling institute.He said the firm will put in another offer for the Schlosshotel Velden, a palatial hotel located at Carinthia’s Wörther Lake which is well known thanks to various TV and film productions.HGAA recently put the building on offer a second time in a bid to rake in money to get its finances back on track. New CEO Gottwald Kranebitter said the main aim of the coming months will be to sell most of HGAA-owned real estate and focus on its core business – offering financial services to private and business customers in Austria and Southern and south-eastern Europe.Reports have it Viennese billionaire Karl Wlaschek also had an eye on the hotel in Velden. The 93-year-old businessman founded leading supermarket chain Billa in 1953.Pointner announced the Xeniadis Group will “offer a bit more than last time” in the second public tender which closes on 7 October. He revealed the company suggested a sum of 68 million Euros in the first tender, adding that it also hoped to grab golf courts owned by HGAA in the Carinthian towns of Seltenheim and Finkenstein.Gottwald Kranebitter recently announced he hoped HGAA’s finances would be restored by 2012 to sell it with profit.Figures for the first half of this year have shown that that the institute was far from being in the black. The former Carinthian provincial bank suffered net losses of 449 million Euros, and the European Commission (EC) called into question whether it would ever be profitable again considering its debts and credit responsibilities.Klagenfurt juridical officials only recently decided to keep former HGAA chief Wolfgang Kulterer in custody. The businessman, who reportedly owns estate in Great Britain, was arrested last month amid concerns he could try to cover up previously committed business crimes.Kulterer is accused of being mainly responsible for HGAA’s careless lending policies in Croatia and other former Yugoslav countries. Reports have it Croatia’s military armament was backed with HGAA-owned money after former Croatian Deputy Defence Minister Vladimir Zagorec struck a deal with Austrian businessmen and politicians.Kulterer’s lawyer claimed the decision to keep his client behind bars was a “scandal” he would fight against with all options the Austrian juridical system holds.Kulterer had to leave the bank’s board in 2006 when it emerged he uncovered losses of 328 million Euros the bank suffered in risky swap deals two years earlier. He was compensated 1.125 million Euros and was head of HGAA’s supervisory board for a brief period.An increasing number of business magazines, meanwhile, speculate that Kulterer could be a scapegoat politicians and prosecutors focused on to cover up their mistakes.Reports have it late Carinthian Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) Governor Jörg Haider – who died in October 2008 – persuaded Kulterer several times to give the green light to subsidise controversial business projects in a bid to boost his own reputation.Kranebitter said last month the new HGAA board would demand compensation “from those who caused damage to the bank” shortly.The SoKo Hypo – a special commission consisting of police officers, prosecutors, and business fraud experts – has so far raided 28 offices and apartments and carried out 140 questionings to clarify who was to blame for the bank’s near collapse.Germany’s BayernLB (Bayerische Landesbank) paid 1.62 billion Euros to acquire a majority in HGAA three years ago. Investigations have shown that the takeover price was significantly too high considering HGAA’s dire state.SoKo Hypo and prosecutors in Klagenfurt and Munich, Germany, are currently trying to find out whether BayernLB’s board knew – and who tricked it had it not been aware of the state of things.