Corporate / M&A

Freshening up the Slovenian Corporate Framework: Recent Amendments to the Law

This year, amendments to the Slovenian Commercial Companies Act, the Book Entry Securities Act, and the Takeover Act have been enacted and entered into force. Although there is much new in the new legislation, the practical aspects of M&A transactions will be effected most of all by a new rule providing that the legal transfer of shares in Slovenian limited liability companies becomes effective with the successful registration of the shareholder change in the Slovenian commercial register, and no longer with the proper execution of a (notarial) transfer deed.

Realignment of corporate framework

This year, the Slovenian Parliament adopted several amendments to the Commercial Companies Act (Zakon o gospodarskih družbah, “ZGD-1“), the Book Entry Securities Act (Zakon o nematerializiranih vrednostnih papirjih, “ZNVP“) and the Takeover Act (Zakon o prevzemih, “ZPre-1“), predominantly in order to harmonise Slovenian laws with existing EU regulations.

While some of the amendments seem quite innocent at first glance, their practical impact will likely be significant.

Hot topics

Takeover Act

The amended ZPre-1 provides a large number of new rules and clarifications, mainly in order to eliminate deficiencies in the existing legal framework and as a reaction to bad experiences in past takeovers. The most important of these new rules are: (i) regulation of specific circumstances under which shareholders may regain voting rights in (listed) target companies which have been suspended by the Slovenian Securities Market Agency (Agencija za trg vrednostnih papirjev; “SMA“) due to a strict interpretation of the “acting in concert” doctrine; (ii) implementation of a new success threshold of 50% plus one share for mandatory takeover bids; and (iii) a requirement that an acquirer notify the SMA of its plans as a mandatory prerequisite for the approval of the takeover bid (and prospectus) by the SMA. As to the last of these, acquirers shall – in particular – notify the SMA of any (existing or planned) collateral to be provided by the target company in the context of its acquisition or financing of the takeover.

Book Entry Securities Act

The amendments to the ZNVP, in turn, focused on the implementation of the (Europe-wide) TARGET2-Securities (“T2S“) system. The basic principles and standards of the (future) T2S system have been implemented into the ZNVP, while all technical and operational details will be regulated by the acts of the Slovenian Central Depository Company (the Slovenian central clearing house).

Commercial Companies Act

Lastly extensive changes have been made in the new ZGD-1, which mostly seized accountancy rules and stricter regulations regarding the establishment of limited liability companies (“LLC“). The latter of these was implemented to prevent the recently-expanded practice in Slovenia of LLC “chaining” and, thus, should provide adequate protection to creditors. Under the new rules, a person cannot be (or become) a shareholder of an LLC if he/she, inter alia: (i) is listed on a publicly disclosed “black list” of tax evaders; (ii) was fined for breach of labor laws; or (iii) has already established (or acquired in) a de facto non-operational LLC within the last three years.

With the same objective (ie, creditor protection), a provision has been implemented, pursuant to which loans granted by an LLC to its shareholders, management, and related persons shall no longer be considered relevant for the calculation of the company’s minimum share capital to be maintained. This (new) regulation will prevent another recently evolving practice of services providers / providers of shelf companies, by which the required minimum share capital (EUR 7,500) of newly established LLCs is withdrawn immediately upon establishment of the respective LLC in the form of an up-stream loan to the founder / shareholder, thereby leaving the respective LLC as a mere “shell” without any financial means.

Transfer of shares in LLCs

In terms of the practical impact on M&A transactions, however, the amended “transfer perfection” regime in relation to LLC shares (as implemented by the ZGD-1) will probably become the most challenging (and problematic) amendment of the new corporate legal framework. With the aim to incentivise companies to diligently register all changes in their shareholders’ structure with the commercial register, the legislature “linked” the legal transfer of LLC shares to the acquirer’s registration as new owner with the commercial register. Prior to the recent amendments, by comparison, the transfer of shares in an LLC was effectuated by: (i) executing a transfer deed in the form of a (Slovenian) notarial deed, and (ii) notifying the target company’s management of the respective shareholder change).

Despite the good intentions of the legislature (as to the goal of maintaining an accurate commercial register), the practical impacts of this structural change are severe and are likely to lead to significant complications in the completion process. In particular, under the new “legal transfer” structure,

(i) the well-established simultaneous “delivery vs payment” mechanism (ie, the transfer of shares versus payment of purchase price at a notarial closing meeting, in the course of which both the transfer deed was signed by the parties and the purchase price was paid by the purchaser) was demolished; and

(ii) a “split” of governance rights in relation to the target company occurred, as (i) inter partes the ownership in relation to the shares already transfers from the transferor to the acquirer with the execution of the transfer deed, while (ii) the voting rights in the target company remain with the transferor up until registration of the acquirer with the commercial register (which for obvious reasons constitutes an unacceptable side effect for the acquirer).

While the “simultaneity” issue outlined under (i) above can quite elegantly be solved by way of establishing an escrow structure (eg, via the notary, who releases the deposited payment only upon the acquirer’s registration in the commercial register, thereby eliminating any counter-party risks), the “voting rights” issue outlined under (ii) above can only be tackled contractually (eg, by way of implementing voting right restrictions in the transaction documentation). Such “locked box light” system, however, is to a large extent unsatisfactory (especially for the acquirer) due to the absence of control mechanisms in the period between the execution of the transfer deed and registration of legal ownership. In a worst-case scenario, the transferor may use its voting rights to exploit the target company after execution of the transfer deed without the acquirer having any robust legal remedies to avoid that action.

In any case (and in addition to the above-mentioned legal constraints), both of these protection mechanisms lead to an increased level of “administrative” costs in terms of transaction structuring, which (at least at first glance) seem disproportional to the purpose of the amendment (and in addition lead to additional (and unnecessary) costs for the parties).

Despite its significant practical implications, the newly adopted provision of ZGD-1 somehow has not been the focus of public discussion. In the absence of any tested practice on how to best tackle the above-mentioned issues, it remains to be seen how the legal community will react to these legislative changes and, consequently, how the market will developed protection mechanisms for clients. It would not be a surprise if there is a u-turn on this topic in the near future resulting in a re-implementation of the previous legal framework.

Pursuant to the amended provision of the Slovenian Commercial Companies Act, new shareholders in limited liability companies shall be able to exercise their shareholder rights in the target company only upon successful registration with the Slovenian commercial register.

Osvežitev slovenske korporacijsko-pravne zakonodaje: nedavne spremembe ZGD-1, ZPre-1 in ZNVP

Slovenska zakonodaja s področja korporacijskega prava in prava vrednostnih papirjev je letos doživela spremembe v obliki novel Zakona o gospodarskih družbah, Zakona o nematerializiranih vrednostnih papirjih in Zakona o prevzemih. Med številnimi novostmi, ki jih prinašajo omenjene novele, bo imela največji vpliv na M&A transakcije nova določba ZGD-1, po kateri bo pravni prenos deležev v slovenski družbi z omejeno odgovornostjo učinkovit šele ob uspešnem vpisu novega družbenika v sodni register (in ne več ob podpisu pogodbe o prenosu deležev v obliki notarskega zapisa).

Preureditev korporacijskopravne zakonodaje

Državni zbor Republike Slovenije je letos potrdil več sprememb Zakona o gospodarskih družbah (“ZGD-1“), Zakona o nematerializiranih vrednostnih papirjih (“ZNVP“) in Zakona o prevzemih (“ZPre-1“), predvsem zaradi potrebne harmonizacije slovenske zakonodaje z veljavnimi evropskimi predpisi.

Čeprav se nekatere spremembe na prvi pogled zdijo “nedolžne”, bodo kljub temu imele znaten vpliv na prakso.

Odmevne spremembe

Zakon o prevzemih

Novela ZPre-1 prinaša številne novosti in pojasnila, predvsem z namenom odprave pomanjkljivosti v obstoječi zakonodaji ter kot odziv na nekatere slabe izkušnje v pretekli praksi prevzemov. Kot najpomembnejše novosti lahko izpostavimo: (i) opredelitev okoliščin in pogojev, pod katerimi bodo družbeniki, ki jim je bilo na podlagi odločbe Agencije za trg vrednostnih papirjev (“ATVP“) prepovedano uresničevanje glasovalnih pravic v (javnih) ciljnih družbah, le-te lahko ponovno pridobili; (ii) uvedbo novega praga uspešnosti obveznih prevzemnih ponudb, ki skladno z novelo ne sme biti nižji od 50% deleža + ene delnice vseh delnic ciljne družbe z glasovalno pravico; in (iii) obveznost razkritja prevzemnikovih načrtov s ciljno družbo kot predpogoj za pridobitev soglasja ATVP za prevzemno ponudbo (in prospekt). V zvezi s slednjo zahtevo mora prevzemnik obvestiti ATVP tudi o kakršnihkoli (obstoječih ali bodočih) zavarovanjih, ki naj bi bila za prevzem (ali financiranjem le-tega) zagotovljena s strani ciljne družbe.

Zakon o nematerializiranih vrednostnih papirjih

Spremembe ZNVP se osredotočajo na implementacijo vseevropskega sistema TARGET2-Securities (T2S). S tem namenom so bila v ZNVP vključena osnovna načela in standardi (bodočega) sistema T2S, vse tehnične in izvedbene podrobnosti pa bodo regulirane v aktih Centralne klirinško depotne družbe (centralne klirinško depotne družbe Republike Slovenije).

Zakon o gospodarskih družbah

Številne spremembe prinaša tudi novela ZGD-1. Le-te se odražajo predvsem na področju vodenja poslovnih knjig ter v strožjem režimu ustanavljanja družb z omejeno odgovornostjo (d.o.o.). Zadnje spremembe so bile uveljavljene predvsem z namenom zagotovitve primernejšega varstva upnikov v primerih v zadnjem času razširjene prakse “veriženja” družb. V skladu z novelo družbenik ne more postati oseba, ki je (i) uvrščena na t.i. “črno listo” davčnih utajevalcev; (ii) kaznovana zaradi kršenja delovnopravne zakonodaje; ali (iii) v zadnjih treh mesecih že ustanovila ali pridobila poslovni delež v de facto neoperativni družbi.

Z namenom dodatnega varstva upnikov je bila implementirana tudi določba, na podlagi katere se kakršnakoli posojila družbe svojim družbenikom, poslovodstvu ali povezanim osebam ne vštevajo več v premoženje, potrebno za ohranitev najnižjega zneska osnovnega kapitala družbe. Ti (novi) predpisi naj bi zajezili prakso ponudnikov storitve ustanavljanja neoperativnih družb (t.i. shelf companies), ki iz novoustanovljene družbe z minimalnim osnovnim kapitalom (7.500 EUR) takoj po ustanovitvi s posojilom ustanovitelju / družbeniku (t.i. up-stream loan) izčrpajo osnovni kapital, družba pa posledično ostane brez kakršnihkoli razpoložljivih finančnih sredstev.

Prenos poslovnega deleža

S praktičnega vidika bo največji vpliv na M&A transakcije najverjetneje imela zakonska določba o učinkovanju dejanskega prenosa poslovnih deležev šele z vpisom v sodni register, in ki bo med spremenjenimi določbami korporacijsko-pravne zakonodaje predstavljala tudi največji izziv (in oviro). Z namenom, da se družbe spodbudi k bolj ažurni registraciji sprememb v njihovih lastniških strukturah v sodnem registru, je namreč zakonodajalec (stvarno)pravni prenos poslovnih deležev povezal z vpisom pridobitelja kot novega družbenika v sodni register. (Za primerjavo: pred sprejetimi spremembami je prenos poslovnih deležev v družbi učinkoval (i) s podpisom pogodbe o prenosu deležev v obliki (slovenskega) notarskega zapisa in (ii) z obvestilom poslovodji ciljne družbe o takšnem prenosu deležev).

Navkljub dobrim namenom zakonodajalca (t.j., da se sodni register ažurno vzdržuje), pa so praktične posledice takšne strukturne spremembe bolj daljnosežne in bodo privedle do pomembnih zapletov v transakcijah prenosa poslovnih deležev, zlasti v njihovi zaključni fazi (completion). Konkretneje, z uveljavitvijo nove ureditve pravnega prenosa so posledice predvsem sledeče:

(A) že uveljavljen mehanizem istočasnega plačila in prenosa poslovnega deleža, t.i. “delivery vs payment” (oz. prenos deležev proti plačilu kupnine, izveden na notarskem naroku, kjer je ob podpisu pogodbe o prenosu hkrati plačana tudi kupnina) ni več mogoče; in

(B) glasovalne pravice v ciljni družbi bodo v vmesnem času (t.j. med podpisom pogodbe o prenosu in registracijo) razdeljene, saj (i) inter partes prenos lastništva na deležih z odsvojitelja na pridobitelja nastopi že s podpisom pogodbe o prenosu, medtem ko (ii) glasovalne pravice v ciljni družbi ostanejo odsvojitelju vse do vpisa pridobitelja v sodni register (kar za pridobitelja iz očitnih razlogov predstavlja nesprejemljiv “stranski učinek”).

Medtem ko je vidik “istočasnosti”, opisan pod točko (A) zgoraj, rešljiv z vzpostavitvijo fiduciarnega računa (npr. pri notarju, ki sprosti deponirano kupnino šele v trenutku vpisa pridobitelja v sodni register, kar prepreči morebitna tveganja povezana z nasprotno stranko), se problem “glasovalnih pravic” iz točke (B) zgoraj lahko uredi le pogodbeno (npr. z vključitvijo dogovora o omejevanju glasovalnih pravic v transakcijsko dokumentacijo). Takšen “locked box light” sistem pa zaradi pomanjkanja kontrolnih mehanizmov v obdobju med podpisom pogodbe o prenosu deležev in vpisom novega družbenika v sodni register v precejšnji meri (zlasti za pridobitelja) ne predstavlja zadovoljive rešitve. V najslabšem primeru bi lahko odsvojitelj zlorabil svoje glasovalne pravice za izčrpavanje ciljne družbe po podpisu pogodbe o prenosu, pridobitelj pa v takem primeru ne bi imel na voljo učinkovitih pravnih sredstev, s katerimi bi tako ravnanje lahko preprečil.

V vsakem primeru pa poleg zgoraj omenjenih pravnih ovir oba navedena zaščitna mehanizma vodita k povečanju “administrativnega” bremena pri strukturiranju transakcij, ki se (vsaj na prvi pogled) zdi nesorazmerno s cilji sprejete spremembe (poleg tega pa tudi povzročajo dodatne (nepotrebne) stroške za stranke).

Navkljub vsem pomembnim praktičnim implikacijam (kot so opisane zgoraj) ta novost v ZGD-1 ni bila v središču javnih razprav. V pomanjkanju preizkušenih načinov spopadanja z omenjenimi ovirami se bo šele sčasoma pokazalo, kako bo na zakonodajne spremembe reagirala pravna praksa in kako bo tako razvite mehanizme varovanja interesov strank sprejel trg. Nikakor pa nas ne bo presenetilo niti, če bi se zakonodajalec v bližnji prihodnosti odločil, da ponovno uzakoni staro ureditev (vključno s preizkušenimi praksami, razvitimi na njeni podlagi).

Na podlagi spremenjenih določb Zakona o gospodarskih družbah bodo novi družbeniki v družbah z omejeno odgovornostjo upravičeni uveljavljati svoje glasovalne pravice v prevzetih družbah šele po uspešnem vpisu novega družbenika v sodni register.