WE ARE READY TO INVEST IN ENERGY PROJECTS
Philippe Citerne - CEO of the French Societe Generale Group, to the BANKER weeklyMr. Citerne, in the last month rumous spread in local bank circles that Societe Generale is one of the banks, holding negotiations with Regent Pacific for the purchase of HEBROSBANK. Are such talks going on indeed?- In all countries where Societe Generale has subsidiaries we control a significant segment of the market, which gives us an opportunity to expand on our own, without seeking alliance with other credit institutions. This is also the case in Bulgaria. However, I'd like to point out that we are pragmatical in matters concerning consolidation with other banks on the markets in Eastern Europe. If it turns out that our clients and shareholders will benefit if we buy another bank in a certain country, we'll do that. But concerning HEBROSBANK, I learnt about its existence only when I came to Sofia. I heard also about the rumours that we were holding negotiations for the purchase of that bank, and Societe Generale has never held such talks. If such negotiations were being held, I'd have known about them long before I came to your capital. But you should be certain in one thing - in its ability to generate rumours Sofia does not differ much from the other European capitals. More than three years have passed since Societe Generale bought EXPRESSBANK. What is your evaluation of that investment?- We are fully satisfied with our investment. We have been present in Bulgaria for 25 years (editor's note: Societe Generale opened its first representative office in Sofia in 1978). But three years ago we decided to buy EXPRESSBANK in order to develop more quickly on the Bulgarian market. For the period within which the bank has been owned by Societe Generale, the number of its private clients went up from 100,000 to 260,000 citizens, and its corporate clients are already 15,000. This is a great success for us and we are certain that we'll continue to maintain the same dynamic rhythm of development. During your visit to Bulgaria you met with President Georgi Purvanov and the Deputy Premier Lidiya Shouleva. What was the subject of your talks with them?- I wanted to attract the attention of the executive power in Bulgaria on the fact that Societe Generale is a bank with very stable positions in the world regarding the financing of investment projects. Specialized foreign publications rate us first in that sphere. During my meetings with representatives of the executive power I declared we're ready to apply our experience regarding investments in infrastructure, power engineering and transport in Bulgaria. What is important for us is to be presented with well-drafted and well-grounded projects, whose profitability is entirely realistic. In the beginning of 2003 Societe Generale, together with another big French bank - Credit Agricole - allocated the biggest financing to a private company in Bulgaria. I refer to the EUR340MN loan to the Maritsa-Iztok 3 thermoelectric power plant. Are there any other concrete projects for financing in the sphere of infrastructure or power engineering that you are about to complete?- Presently, there are no other projects in Bulgaria of the Maritsa Iztok 3 scale. But principally, the bank is ready to hold negotiations for financing the the nine electric power plants, owned by Maritsa Iztok 2. We have established very good relations with the National Electricity Company (NEC). Moreover, we are partners of not only French but also Austrian, Italian and American companies, operating on the Bulgarian energy market. The incumbent Government is persistently promising to build a second N-plant in Belene. It is known than France is a big producer of equipment for such power capacities. Is Societe Generale ready to finance the construction of a second N-plant in this country?- Why not? We are experienced in that sphere. Societe Generale financed the construction of the Cherna Voda N-plant in Romania. This project is being implemented by US, Canadian and Italian companies, but the money for its realization is allocated by our bank. Which are the problems connected with the organization of financing of projects in the sphere of power engineering?- These projects are not very complicated regarding the financing. However, the amounts are much higher than in the financing of other projects, and the real complexity comes from the fact that a greater number of partners are involed in the construction of an N-plant. I should underline that when realizing such projects Societe Generale is especially exacting in the observation of requirements for preseravation of the environment.