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SWEDEN: Muller dampens "frosty" relationship talk with Antonov

By Simon Warburton | 8 September 2011

Saab CEO Victor Muller is playing down reports his relationship with Russian businessman Vladimir Antonov is "frosty," as the automaker waits ahead of an expected court ruling today (8 September) concerning its application for reorganisation.

Antonov has been repeatedly frustrated in his attempts to invest up to EUR100m (US$141m) in Saab, seeming to come up against the European Investment Bank despite the Swedish National Debt Office (SNDO) officially clearing him of any alleged wrongdoing.

The SNDO approved Antonov's application to underwrite EUR30m that would have given him up to 29.9% of the automaker, despite rumours of money laundering and organised crime, but the EIB declined to accept the Russian's bid to become part-owner.

"Antonov is not frosty," maintained Muller. "He feels, rightly so I would say, extremely upset with the process. He has been approved by the SNDO and since then total silence, both from the EIB and the Swedish government. It is extremely frustrating.

"He is taking a somewhat more laid-back position I know - we spent a year and a half fighting windmills. [Antonov] was willing to put EUR100m into this company and we all know that has not happened. There is no [use] crying over spilt milk."

Muller also reiterated his belief Chinese distributor Pang Da and manufacturer Youngman represented the best long-term future with potential investment, despite Antonov's rebuttal, although he did not rule out "casualties" should Saab enter reorganisation.

"Not producing cars for four months has changed the outlook of the business," he said. "We have and will have casualties. We will have long, uphill battles with our suppliers to restore confidence - 120,000 cars next year is out of the window.

"We have to create new targets - the rest of the competition has not been standing. This management is pushing like crazy to get production started."