Real estate development

Cenaro bankruptcy hits a bump in the road

Ivan Zilic confirms that he acquired the Cenaro Group on 23 January. Photo: Matic Zorman/Maison Moderne

Ivan Zilic confirms that he acquired the Cenaro Group on 23 January. Photo: Matic Zorman/Maison Moderne

The former Ford engineer living in Luxembourg, Ivan Zilic, claims to be the owner of the Cenaro Group, which he bought on 23 January for a symbolic one euro and the assumption of €150m of debt. Except that...

Could the bankruptcy of the Cenaro real estate group be over? On Friday 17 February, when asked by Delano’s sister publication Paperjam, Ivan Zilic confirmed that he had acquired the Cenaro group for one symbolic euro and the assumption of €150m in debt. According to a copy of the contract he sent us, the sale was signed before notary Edouard Delosch on 23 January 2023. His calculation is simple: “The realisation of the projects will bring in more than €650m in turnover,” he explained on Monday 20 February.

At this moment, every date counts. After months of trying to find financing to meet his deadlines, Cenaro Group CEO Christophe Chevallier announced to his employees in mid-January that he would have to file for bankruptcy, which he finally did on Friday 20 January.

The sale of the group took place three days later, before the bankruptcy was officially pronounced by the Luxembourg District Court on Wednesday 25 January, which entrusted the management of the bankruptcy to two trustees, Marguerite Ries and Yann Baden.

On Sunday 29 January, in the middle of the afternoon, Chevalier sent an email to say that the group would be able to pay “all the debts of the Cenaro group, including those to the State, thanks to the offer to take over the bankruptcy of Mr Zilic (...) which was communicated to the trustee last Friday.”

This earned him a direct clarification from the former Ford engineer, three hours later, and still by e-mail: "I would like to make it clear that I have not made you any offer. We--Mr Christophe Chevallier (seller) and Mr Ivan Zilic (buyer)--signed a contract of sale before a notary and the Cenaro group has belonged to me since 23 January. The provisional administrators of the insolvency have accepted the purchase contract. It is therefore clear that the provisional insolvency administrators must indemnify all creditors in a regular manner.”

Neither of the two trustees accepted your sales contract with Mr Chevallier.

Yann Badentrustee of the Cenaro Group bankruptcy

It is this email, also addressed to the trustees, that will earn Zilic a clarification from Yann Baden the following morning, Monday 30 January. Luxembourg does not provide for provisional trustees, but for definitive trustees, the trustee first noted. “Neither of the two trustees accepted your sales contract with Mr Chevallier. We have just taken note of this. Apart from that, the sale contract is outside the bankruptcy procedure, because the bankruptcy procedure does not concern the shares of the company, but only the ‘contents’ of the company, i.e., the business and the assets. So you can be the owner of the company and the bankruptcy will cover all the business and assets of the company.”

The trustee invites the new purchaser to pay attention to the time limits for appeal in this case. Article 472 of the Commercial Code provides that “opposition will only be admissible if it is lodged by the bankrupt within a week, and by any other interested party within a fortnight of the insertion of these judgments in the newspaper mentioned in article 472 which is printed in the place closest to their domicile.”

Maître Baden “will need a lawyer!”

But in an e-mail to Baden on Sunday 19 February, the new owner warned him: “Since you have taken note of the contract, I hope that you have also made it available to the insolvency court. The insolvency should have been suspended for the time being. What is certain is that if you have refused the sales contract to the insolvency court, this is a conscious and intentional criminal act.”

Then, on Monday, he told Paperjam that all he can say about the trustee’s proposal is that “he will need a lawyer soon!”

On Thursday 2 February, the police searched the headquarters of Cenaro Group and its CEO was taken into custody.

Zilic is relatively discreet in Luxembourg. He became known in 2014, when Austrian media were looking for information on this former Ford engineer, who made his fortune, he explains, from a revolutionary patent in the welding of metal parts, used by some car manufacturers or even Black & Decker. The latest available balance sheet of his company, U&V Consulting, in Germany, shows assets of €24.239bn. This balance sheet filed in 2016 is for the year 2012. He did not answer any of our questions apart from those relating to the Cenaro Group.

What would this move change? The charges against Chevallier would not be dropped, but the group would be able to continue with the development of the real estate projects and its development.

This story was first published in French on Paperjam. It has been translated and edited for Delano.