Dutch luxury carmaker Spyker's plans to acquire Swedish auto firm Saab from General Motors (GM) appears to have hit a speed-breaker, with the Swedish government taking its time to clear controversial Russian businessman Vladimir Antonov's involvement in the deal.
Daniel Barr, a senior official at the Swedish debt office, said it would take weeks, not days, to clear Antonov's bid to take a stake in Saab. The Russian tycoon had to back out from an earlier deal by Spyker to buy Saab from GM, after media reports linked his name to organised crime.
Antonov says he has now got the backing of GM and wants clearance from the Swedish government for the deal. But Sweden, which guaranteed a $568 million loan to Saab and has a say in the change in ownership, is not in a hurry to approve the deal.
The Russian billionaire had an almost 30 per cent stake in Spyker, but was forced to sell it. He now wants to restore his share in the Dutch carmaker, either by buying shares from the market, or through a new issue.
Spyker's chief executive Victor Muller backs Antonov and wants him to lend funds - through his banks in Lithuania and Latvia - to the Dutch firm. But the Swedish government has to clear any funding of Spyker by Antonov, before it clears the deal to acquire Saab.
Muller is also in talks with other European and American banks for a 500 million euros credit facility to replace a loan from the European Investment Bank and the Swedish government's guarantee.
Spyker reported a net loss of $309 million for 2010, following its acquisition of Saab. Established in 2000, the Dutch firm makes less than 50 exotic, hand-made cars in a year that sell for about $300,000. Last month, Muller announced the sale of the sports car business to Antonov for $44 million, which would help him fund the acquisition of Saab, announced last year.
GM owned Saab for about 20 years, but the firm never made money for the American auto giant. Saab sold less than 40,000 cars in 2009, half of that sold in the previous year.