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René Benko is stepping down from his position as Chairman of the Advisory Board, but many questions remain unanswered

René Benko is stepping down from his position as Chairman of the Advisory Board, but many questions remain unanswered

After days of uncertainty, something is moving at Signa Group. Company founder René Benko has handed over the two positions he still holds to restructuring expert Arndt Goetz. But not all demands of the co-owners were met. There is no mention of urgently needed funds.

Tyrolean investor Rene Benko is handing over the Signa Group to restructuring expert Arndt Geiwitz.

Helmut Foehringer/APA

After days of uncertainty, there are changes at Signa: Rene Benko handed over the chairmanship of Signa Holding’s advisory board to restructuring expert Arndt Geiwitz on Wednesday, the Signa Group wrote. In addition, Jewitz will chair the Signa Holding Shareholders Committee.

Jewitz will orchestrate the restructuring of Cigna Group, according to the report. He enjoys the confidence of all Signa Holding shareholders.

“In the current situation, this is the best solution for the company, its partners, investors and employees,” Rene Benko was quoted as saying. It is now important to restore confidence and he wants to contribute to that. He is quite sure that the company can have a very good future because its real estate portfolio is unique.

In the letter, Benko appeals to all parties with a say in Cigna’s fate to support the group. This probably refers to financiers – from investors to banks to holders of profit-sharing certificates and corporate bonds. Because everyone needs to at least temporarily stand still in order for the Signa Group’s situation to stabilize.

Renovation expert talks about “a long mission”

According to the announcement, Signa has hired other advisors in addition to Geiwitz. They are supposed to review the areas of work of the two real estate companies Signa Prime and Signa Development, which are located below the holding company, and develop “standards and a comprehensive concept for the group.” Rothschild & Co. and White & Case law firms were also commissioned. They are in close coordination with the law firm SGP Schneider Geiwitz.

Cigna Real Estate Holding Company

Cigna Real Estate Holding Company

The report also quoted Arndt Goetz. “Signa needs peace and order now. We will handle these important tasks carefully and rationally. “It is important to find long-term solutions.”

Jewitz also appeals to all concerned to participate in comprehensive integration; At the same time, he emphasizes the value of the assets: “The quality of the Signa Prime portfolio is excellent, and the development prospects of the development projects, which are located in the best locations in German-speaking cities, are very good.”

Have the demands actually been met?

It is not clear whether Benko is meeting the demands of its fellow shareholders with this announcement. The investors who own the holding company, along with Benko, demanded in a letter last week that the founder withdraw from management and hand over his voting rights to a trustee, say Arendt Gewitz, for at least 24 months.

These participating partners are well-known entrepreneurs from German-speaking countries. These include Lindt & Sprüngli chairman Ernst Tanner, Thurgau coffee machine tycoon Arthur Eugster, German Fressnapf founder Torsten Toeller, Austrian building contractor Hans Peter Hasselsteiner and secretive Brazilian-Swiss businessman Ricardo Arduini.

However, in today’s announcement there is nothing about the credit transfer of voting rights. Instead, it was confirmed that nothing would change in terms of ownership and that the private Benko family foundation remained the largest shareholder in the holding company. This may mean that Benko will give up the chairmanship of the two aforementioned committees, but not his voting rights.

What exactly Benko’s resignation means is unclear. Due to his indirect ownership through the family foundation, he has generally no longer had a formal function at Signa since 2013. Since Convicted in a criminal case He is no longer a member of the Supervisory Board and does not hold a management position.

From a corporate law perspective, Benko has since no longer had any influence or responsibility. Meanwhile, as contributors wrote in their letter last week — in quotes — he was the “sole decision maker” until today.

The great silence of shareholders

It was not possible to know until the evening whether Signa Holding shareholders would continue to push for Benko to also transfer voting rights to Geiwitz. It is notable that Banco and Jewitz commented on the changes, but not shareholders. At least, the owners of the holding company and Banco do not give the impression that they are speaking with one voice and are still in control of the situation.

Moreover, it is not possible to evaluate from the outside whether Signa Holding’s shareholders still have any influence or whether power has passed to the lending banks. Depending on the size of the losses and the financial needs of the group, depreciation must be carried out on shareholders’ capital.

Jewitz and the advisors appointed also face the difficult task of getting an overview of the complex group’s financial situation. This is more difficult because there is no unified balance sheet for it.

The Signa Group consists of countless enterprise and other companies. Where is income recorded? Is there a solution to collect funds? Where are the assets and how much are they exactly? What payments can be deferred? Jewitz has to figure it out now.

In addition, according to insiders, it is not enough for everyone involved to remain silent until the structures of the Signa Group are clarified one day. Signa Prime needs between 100 and 200 million euros of new liquidity next week at the latest. Construction sites have ground to a halt across Germany, which is also causing huge costs. In this regard too, it is incomprehensible that participants – such as Signa Prime and Signa Development, which also have prominent investors and supervisory boards – remain silent.