Insight: Untangling the UK bid for a Bulgarian pension fund

Sun Aug 4, 2013 4:42am EDT
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By Laurence Fletcher and Tsvetelia Tsolova

LONDON/SOFIA (Reuters) - British company United Capital, which agreed last month to buy most of Bulgaria's biggest private pension fund Doverie, has no stock market listing, no website and no phone number.

Its registered office is a terraced house in the town of Grays in Essex, occupied by Tanja Pazarcik, who works for Insolution Service, an agency that helps people set up companies. It uses the address for a number of its clients. Pazarcik says she forwards United's mail to an address in Austria but otherwise knows little about the firm.

United Capital's accounts filed in late October showed the company had 14 pounds in cash and is dormant. The transaction price for Doverie has not been revealed. In a July 15 statement the seller, Vienna Insurance Group AG, said only it had agreed to sell its 92.58 percent of Pension Insurance Company Doverie to United Capital PLC.

Such gaps have raised questions in Bulgaria about United Capital's intentions for Doverie, which with almost 1.8 billion levs ($1.2 billion) under management and more than 1.25 million contributors is an important pension provider in Europe's poorest country.

In Britain, transparency campaigners have latched onto the controversy to renew their calls for tougher disclosure rules.

A Reuters examination of company documents and interviews in Britain, Austria, Bulgaria, Russia and Hong Kong has traced the ownership of United Capital to a series of corporate entities.

Bulgaria's ruling Socialists have appealed to the country's financial regulator to halt the sale. The watchdog says it will seek more information about United Capital's owners, finances and how it proposes to fund the purchase when United Capital files its documents for approval of the transaction.

A spokesman for Vienna Insurance Group said it carried out an examination of all the offers it received from several parties and, after an evaluation, put together a shortlist.   Continued...

The logo of Doverie, the country's biggest private pension fund, is seen on the front door of an office in Sofia July 22, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer