N1: High-end supermarket complex silently sold to Vujnovac’s business partner

Ilustracija N1/Pixell/Klancir

Mercator-H, a subsidiary of Fortenova Group, sold a large business complex Super Konzum Radnicka in Zagreb to Ante Bracic, Croatian-Slovenian businessman who has connections with Pavlo Vujnovac through a series of real-estate companies, N1 learns. Bracic was also granted permission to put the building up as collateral for a loan.

Super Konzum Radnicka, one of the most luxurious and best-equipped supermarkets in the Croatian capital Zagreb, today looks almost identical as when it was first opened in December 2015. The opening itself was a spectacular event attended by heads of the strongest companies in the country, but also ministers and high-profile figures. Darko Knez, who at the time served as Konzum’s Chairman of the Board, said that was the “crown of the Mercator takeover”; Super Konzum Radnicka was opened in the same location of one of Mercator’s most successful supermarkets. Mercator is a Slovenian retail chain in which Agrokor acquired majority share a year earlier. For 53 percent of Mercator’s shares, Agrokor shelled out €550 million and, even though Agrokor’s expansion was at the time presented as “the business of the century”, there were whispers within the business community on whether Agrokor bit off more than it can chew.

Mercator’s supermarket in Radnicka was located in the centre of Zagreb in a neighbourhood dubbed “the City” as it was teeming with new business HQs, restaurants, hotels and high-end residential buildings. The building was ambitiously renovated and decked up to the point where it was soon called the best in the city, and the store offered top-shelf domestic and imported products. To this day, the supermarket is well-stocked and it is clear that the new owners of Agrokor – or Fortenova after the proceedings – embraced the successful formula created by Agrokor management from the era of Ivica Todoric. However, it seems that the outside of the building was not renovated, even though this may be necessary eight years after the opening. Simply put, the new owners embraced what Ivica Todoric left them, but they have not taken the step to develop it further.

Bought for €20 million and put up as collateral for a €15 million loan

There are no signs anywhere inside or outside of the building that that this location – once a jewel in Agrokor’s crown – was taken over once more: the business facility in the 269B Vukovarska Street, its underground garage and grounds, all spanning a magnificent 35,741 square meters in the city centre, was sold to a company owned by Croatian-Slovenian businessman Ante Bracic in November 2022 for €20,479 512.45. To pay for the building, Bracic’s companies took out a loan in Slovenias Sparkasse bank in the amount of €15,359 635.34. Super Konzum Radnicka was put up as collateral on the loan.

This means that the owner of Super Konzum is no longer Fortenova Group, the company created thanks to Lex Agrokor – a law created by Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic’s government – which is dominated by a new owner, businessman Pavlo Vujnovac who earned his first millions importing gas from the Russian giant Gazprom through the company PPD (Prvo Plinarsko Drustvo). Fortenova Group sold the entire complex to Ante Bracic, who is Vujnovac’s unequivocal business partner outside Fortenova. In order to sell the building, Fortenova Group paid out a fund from Great Britain, Kroll Trustee Services Limited, which had a note on the property. Following that, Bracic, together with head of Mercator-H’s board Spomenka Bilic, arranged that Sparkasse will grant a loan on Bracic’s companies with precisely this realestate as collateral.

Considering that Super Konzum continues to operate at that address, we can conclude that the supermarket is paying a lease to the new owners. Fortenova Group, who until November owned the property, now pays a lease to Ante Bracic’s company, which acquired the real-estate by taking out a mortgage on it.

Who is Bracic?

How did Ante Bracic get involved in this project?

Bracic is a longtime business partner in a group that for years has done real-estate business linked to Pavao Vujnovac. For example, they cooperated in the construction of an enormous Hotel Vew in Postire on the island of Brac which came into media spotlight due to its size and the fact that it has forever altered the appearance of this small, fishing town. The company that bought the property cheap – Adria Coast Tourism, linked Pavao Vujnovac, Zoran Gobac (businessman dubbed “the king of trash” due to his waste-management business), Josip Jurcevic (one of Vujnovic’s key operatives in a series of business ventures and a long time Deputy chief of Croatia’s intelligence agency SOA), and the company Israemeco, owned by Slovenia’s Iskra impuls whose owners are Maja Bracic Lotric and Ante Bracic. Adria Coast Tourism, and the enormous hotel itself, were in the meantime bought by company Jadran, dominated by two pension funds – PBZ Croatia osiguranje and Erste plavi.

Ante Bracic was also part of the team that built a luxury villa with apartments in the centre of Zagreb. The apartments are now owned by Vujnovac’s partners, Jurcevic and Romeo Kresic, but also the head of SOA’s director’s office, Davor Franic and one of the founders of the right-wing DP party, Mario Radic. It was Radic who bought his villa apartment from Ante Bracic.

Bracic is present in a number of companies, together with Josip Jurcevic and Pavao Vujnovac, Zoran Gobac and Damir Spudic (CFO of Vujnovac’s company Energia Naturalis) which caused quite a commotion over a cheap acquisition of state land and planned tourist expansion in Basko Polje. The company that built Vujnovac’s business empire, PPD, sued a host of activists, media outlets and politicians for bringing attention to the issue.

Meanwhile, Bracic has in Slovenia bought a series of Mercator’s stores. He inherited the business from his father, Zivko Bracic, who did business in multiple countries in former Yugoslavia. It is unclear how Bracic Sr. got his first millions after the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Simply put, there is no doubt that Bracic’s businesses span the entire region and that he is a longtime business partner of Pavao Vujnovac: the two are linked through numerous businesses and real-estate combinations, and he is a part of Vujnovac’s powerful close circle.

It can be said that Bracic can never own enough companies. From the extensive documentation surrounding the purchase of the Super Konzum complex, it is visible that several companies are owned by him: TC3KGS Invest, based in Slovenia, and its Croatian expositure founded immediately before the purchase of Super Konzum; Slovenia-based GP Systems Engineering which also does business in Russia; and Istraemeco, which operates in Croatia. Sparkasse bank has obviously requested a series of guarantees and a safe mortgage in order to ensure that the buyer will be able to pay a monthly rate of €71,109.42 until January 31, 2041.

Bracic silent, Fortenova brief

N1 asked Ante Bracic how he decided to buy the complex and who the business was agreed, whether it was done via an intermediary or directly with Pavao Vujnovac, but Ante Bracic did not respond, even though N1 attempted to reach him in his companies both in Croatia and Slovenia.

N1 also asked Fortenova Group why they paid out the British fund and decided to sell the complex to a company outside of Fortenova’s portfolio, allowing that another mortgage be raised on the property. N1 asked whether they hired a real-estate company to arrange the sale, how they determined the value of the property (as there are voices saying the property could have been a lot pricier on the current market) and how much Fortenova pays to Ante Bracic’s company. Fortenova Group did not respond to the questions, but replied in a single sentence.

“Fortenova Group continues to work on boosting its market and financial position, implementing also activities relating to relocation and better capital management, which includes activating the capital that the Group has in real-estate,” reads the response from Fortenova Group, signed by Anja Linic-Sikavica, the head of corporate communications.

Recently, Croatia’s 24sata daily reported that two other Konzum supermarkets, both in very attractive locations in Zagreb (in Crnomerec and Tresnjevka neighbourhoods), were sold to a private company Arh Concept, founded by Pavao Vujnovac in 2018 (Josip Jurcevic served as director for a period of time, a position now occupied by Vujnovac himself).

In other words, there is a ongoing, silent process of removing real-estate and trade centres that where once the pride of Agrokor, from the group’s portfolio and into the companies founded by Vujnovac himself or his close partners.

If this process continues, Fortenova Group could end up an empty shell, a service that leases properties owned by Pavao Vujnovac and his close circle. It bears repeating that this is a company that was, through Lex Agrokor, declared a company of strategic value for Croatia: the government pushed for a while that the national pension funds enter the company instead of the Russian Sberbank.