Solving the financial puzzle tangled by Laurentios Laurentiadis is part of the legacy that the new year will take over from the old troubled 2011. One of the biggest scandals in Greece in 2011 was the revelation of some of the troubled deals around Proton Bank and the pharmaceutical giant Alapis. They proved to involve hundreds of billions of euro, businessmen soaked with the scent of political support and interest of people and corporations hardly approachable even by God.
Somewhere out there shows up the name of the Bulgarian businessman, investor and former head of the State Agency for Tourism Mario Al-Jebouri, although according to Greek sources of GRReporter, he is a minor player in the financial drama with main character Laurentiadis.
In a conversation with Victoria Mindova, the chairman of the trade union organization of the Alapis employees Nikos Livadas gave interesting details of how from a successful firm the pharmaceutical company has come to beggary. He represents 1,200 people who are likely to remain in the street if things do not go better.
When did you find out that there is a serious problem in the company?
Problems appeared last year. Financial results for 2009 were positive. The balance at the end of 2010 was negative -900 million euro. These losses were registered after the company had to write off approximately 800 million euro due to overestimated assets. In other words, much of the company property was valued at prices much higher than the actual ones, which resulted in an artificial write-up of existing assets. This was the first alarming signal that came in late 2010. Then the collapse of the shares of Alapis followed. At the end of last year, the stock price of the company was about 980 million euro and now it is 2.3 million euro. These are the general facts. We, the staff, however, experienced the development of the problems inside.
Alapis structure can be divided into four parts. The first part relates to production, the second is the logistics and warehousing, the third relates specifically to warehouses and distribution of medicines. Here I would like to add that the company holds between 25% - 30% of the distribution of drugs throughout the country, both from imports and domestic production. One of the largest companies in the distribution sector is the subsidiary of Alapis, "Marinopoulos-drug stores." The fourth structure is purely commercial - representation and sale of disposables, both from domestic production and imports.
Problems started simultaneously on all fronts. Many important collaborations with major international firms were lost because the company had no cash to make the due payments for the products, which they had provided on the Greek market. I can give an example of a large German company manufacturing products to fight cancer. We lost the contract with it because Alapis owed large sums, which it was not able to pay. Similarly, we lost all companies that were using our logistic services. I have to stress that our logistic centres meet the highest standards and have modern equipment, but the problem of making the payments on time was crucial. As for production, we did not pay our obligations to the suppliers, which are also major international corporations.
Finally, our warehouses were affected and their activity ceased in the middle of the summer. They act as wholesalers and the reason for their ceasing activities was that they took goods and medicines from large producing companies, distributed them to pharmacies, but did not pay those who had supplied the goods.
Apparently, all these actions are the result of a lack of available funds, but how did it come about so drastically?
Yes, we could say that the reason is the lack of liquidity, but we should have avoided it. Alapis gained 1.3 billion euro on the stock market by increasing its equity only two times (in 2007 and 2009). Then, it became clear that in addition to these funds, the company has taken approximately 1.2 billion euro in additional corporate loans from local and foreign banks. For about three years, Alapis got 2.5 billion euro in total. Despite the entire flow of funds, today we are talking about a company that is not working. Its factories are not producing, its warehouses are closed, the logistics centres have lost all their customers and the commercial department is operating with about 10 types of medicines down from 200 different medicines that the company offered and represented on the Greek market recently.
All these actions of the shareholders you are describing now are of high risk and seemingly, of dubious results. What is the reason for the policy pursued by the owners / shareholders in your opinion?
We the employees knew what was going on too late. The truth is that not all the executives who passed through our company, including your compatriot Mario Al-Jebouri were related to the market of medicines or their production. One of the executives came from the publishing business, another one had general knowledge of economics, the third person was appointed only because of his close friendship with Laurentios Laurentiadis. To summarize, the first reason for the company's current situation is the management’s lack of knowledge about the specific market.
The sequence of events suggests that the second reason for the collapse of the company lies in the shareholders’ will to gain not through productivity but in other ways. In the best cases, Alapis could achieve a profit of 50 million euro. You understand that the remaining 2.5 billion euro are not to be gained just like that nor could they be found on the road. The question remains: "Where is all the money now?" There are also revenues from sales of shares from an earlier period, from sales of subsidiaries, etc.
Were there large investments, improvements or other investments that would contribute to improving the activity of the company?
No such investments were made, but about 16 smaller companies were bought. A little later, many of them were sold mainly to their former owners or persons who had borrowed from Proton Bank for the transaction. There are again more unknown than known quantities, and the main question remains: "What was the difference between the purchase and sale prices of these companies?" The companies that were sold in 2010 brought 147 million euro but their purchase price is not known.
Another problem, which we addressed at the beginning of the conversation, was the overestimated corporate assets. Who else could be more interested in overwriting their value with 800 million euro than the main shareholder is!?
Another scandal broke out this week with the resignations of the two economic prosecutors Grigoris Peponis and Spiros Mouzakitis because of the political pressure exercised in their work. Let us think what Grigoris Peponis was doing lately. Besides the investigations (for the submarines, the deficit, the CDS, etc.) widely covered in the media, he dealt mainly with the situation of Proton Bank and Alapis.
Given the developments in Greece, do you think justice will prevail?
The desire of Alapis employees is to keep their jobs as far as possible and for the company's future to be based on real production and profit rather than on suspicious financial transactions and credits. Alapis has the entire technical and manufacturing infrastructure to develop a successful business. What it has lost is the confidence of its customers, of its creditors in the face of local and foreign banks and the confidence of employees in the company's shareholders. I would like to emphasize that I do not mean the managing directors but the major shareholders, who make the big decisions.
Recently a serious game was played to try to put the company under Article 99 of the Bankruptcy Code in order to prevent banks taking control of the company. If this had happened, the company management would go into the hands of banks, a recovery programme would be applied and with a new face to its creditors and customers, Alapis could hope for a better future. However, in the general situation now we do not know if Greece itself has a future.
Let us go back to Mario Al-Jebouri. What can you tell us about his management while he was a shareholder and CEO of Alapis?
We first heard about him at the end of 2009, when he bought a solid stake of 20% from his collaborator Laurentios Laurentiadis. He accepted the CEO position with the purchase of shares. I cannot say much, not only because we have never seen him in the company, but because he has not taken any initiative while he was CEO. Furthermore, for the first time in the history of the company another CEO operated, Kibaridis Stylianos, who did all the work.
Why do you think the problems of Alapis and Proton have come to the fore right now? Could not this be done earlier as there was reason for more serious checks?
The Alapis case could have been opened two years ago, but we cannot exclude the possibility of it not having been opened at all. You should know that the person behind the company has a great influence in Greece. The issue was opened by Eleftherotypia newspaper, which published a series of data. The point is that the case was opened in one way or another. Now it is important to see whether it will come to an end, because it is a difficult process in Greece. Let me just remind you that our employer and one of the accused has already won three depositions of testimony and the reason for the latter was because he had changed his defender. It is not possible for this to happen in any serious state as it happens here. In addition, there are many politicians who support the businessman concerned.
In May, 2011 the Minister of Finance (still George Papakonstantinou at that time) submitted to Parliament a ministerial decree to approve the new increase of the share capital of the company. This could not be applied in practice because the law states that a company with a single share price less than 0.30 euro cannot resort to capital increase, and the shares had already hit the bottom by that time. The new Minister of Finance changed the law overnight and allowed companies with share price below 0.30 euro to undertake the desired procedure. This change was mainly due to the state of Alapis. Such practical reverence can be found in the development of Proton Bank too. Therefore, either by chance or due to some unknown affection, the person behind the two organizations enjoys certain support.
What is the best scenario for Alapis, according to you?
It would be better for the company to fall into the hands of someone who wants it to work effectively with the sole aim to earn profits from production rather than from stock transactions or non-transparent buying and selling. This probably means a smaller company with fewer jobs for a certain period of time, but still profitable.