Whether Agrokomerc can return to its former success seems unlikely, many say.
By Ana Lovakovic for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo -- 09/08/12
Fikret Abdic was released from a prison in Pula, Croatia, in March after serving nearly 11 years for war crimes. [Reuters]
Convicted war criminal Fikret Abdic announced a plan to revive the company he once ran, food producer Agrokomerc, but analysts said it is doubtful he will succeed in light of the company's considerable debt and questions about the company's ownership.
"People are without jobs," Abdic said. "Many are on the verge of starvation and despair, which is why I, as creator of Agrokomerc, together with the stakeholders, [intend to] begin production and revitalise the company."
Abdic was convicted in 2002 by a Croatian court of war crimes against Bosniaks loyal to the Bosnian government and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The sentence was later reduced to 15 years by the Supreme Court of Croatia. He was released in March after serving nearly 11 years in prison.
Under Abdic's leadership, which began in the 1970s, Agrokomerc became one of the former Yugoslavia's most successful companies, employing 13,000 and exporting products to 22 countries.
"The company's recovery is important to Abdic only as a way to confront with BiH's ethno-political and clerical elites. Abdic's economic philosophy that was effective during the former [socialist] regime cannot be functional in modern conditions," Enver Kazaz, professor of politics at the University of Sarajevo, told SETimes.
Analysts pointed out all previous efforts to revive Agrokomerc have failed.
Plaguing the revival is uncertain ownership. The company's workers bought 53 percent shares prior to the 1992-95 conflict, but the FBiH government nationalised it since -- an issue to be decided by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Following the nationalisation, the FBiH government has begun privatising the firm by selling various departments to local strongmen.
Experts estimate Agrokomerc is worth 400 million euros, but the company's property in Serbia, Croatia and Montenegro account for 70 percent of the value. Its debt is 150 million euros.
Abdic said he wants the portion of the value of properties in Croatia, built jointly with Agrokomerc's funds, to help finance the firm's revival. Among them is the 42,000-tonne silo at the port of Rijeka and the distribution centre in Kukuljanovo, with an assessed value of 40 million euros.
Agrokomerc's property is subject to the 2001 agreement on succession of the former Yugoslavia, but Serbia and Croatia have not returned the property, estimated at more than 500 million euros.
Abdic also proposed that workers and shareholders share half of their future earnings with the current owners of the properties in Croatia, thus protecting the interests of both states.
Abdic said he is counting on 38,000 BiH citizens in the diaspora to support Agrokomerc's revival through investments.
Many are sceptical of the plan.
"These are solely abstract promises without real foundation and support. Abdic never mentioned how he is going to pay the Agrokomerc debt of 70 million euros," Adil Shushnjar, representative of the Union of Agrokomerc Workers, told SETimes.
But others, like Croatian economist Slavko Kulic, said Abdic may well repeat the company's success of the 1970s. "There is no doubt that he can still succeed with Agrokomerc," Kulic said.
Erdal Trhulj, minister of Industry, Energy and Mines of FBiH, which is in charge of handling Agrokomerc, said the announcement is a publicity stunt for the upcoming October local elections.
"Abdic's proposal to solve the Agrokomerc problems with money he will collect from the BiH diaspora is unrealistic, just as his expectation that the government will cover the company's debt," he told SETimes. "The only realistic solution is renting the properties long-term."