A farmer carries cocoa pods at a farm in Agboville, Ivory Coast. Picture: REUTERS
A farmer carries cocoa pods at a farm in Agboville, Ivory Coast. Picture: REUTERS

Abidjan/Chicago — The liquidator of Saf-Cacao, one of Ivory Coast’s biggest cocoa exporters, named a little-known company as the favoured bidder for the shipper’s assets in a 170-billion CFA francs ($301m) offer, according to four people familiar with the matter.

Liquidator Alain Guillemain considered two final bids for the processing and warehousing properties of Saf-Cacao and awarded the assets to a unit of Prime Group of Companies, headed by Moroccan national Karim Bouhout, said the people, who asked not to be identified because they are not authorised to speak publicly about the matter.

Prime offered to make an initial payment of 40-billion francs and another 150-billion francs in installments over 10 years, said the people.

The demise of Saf-Cacao, which purchased the second-highest volume of cocoa from the world’s top producer two years ago, left Ivorian lenders exposed to about 150-billion francs in unpaid debts and prompted banks to curb financing to exporters, raising the risk of contract defaults. Saf-Cacao slipped out of the top 10 buyers by size for the previous main harvest that ended in March.

Earlier this year, Saf-Cacao was cited in an audit by KPMG for being responsible for 22,425 tonnes in contract defaults from October 2015 through September 2017.

Prime’s bid was chosen over an offer for 210-billion francs by Idex, said the people. The proposal by Idex provided for a deposit and installments over seven years.

Guillemain and a spokesman for Idex declined to comment when contacted by phone. Bouhout didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment sent via LinkedIn and an e-mail sent to the address on Prime’s website returned unanswered.

Prime has to make the initial payment of 40-billion francs by the end of the week for the bid to proceed, said the people. Lenders are reviewing the proposal after opposing the liquidation of Saf-Cacao at first, arguing that banks stood a better chance of recuperating losses if the company was allowed to continue to trade, said the people.

Saf-Cacao was liquidated by a court in the coastal town Sassandra on July 18, following an application by Ivory Coast’s cocoa regulator for unpaid debts totaling 7-billion CFA francs.

CORRECTION: October 19 2018

Bloomberg has changed the bid amounts and terms in the first, third and sixth paragraphs.