French drinks group Belvédère has reported a 19% fall in net sales for the first half of 2009, as the company battles to emerge from bankruptcy protection. 

Net sales for the six months to the end of June tumbled by 19.2% to EUR296m (US$418m), compared to the same period of 2008, said Belvédère at the end of last week. Profits figures for the half-year were not released.

Almost half the sales fall was due to foreign currency impact from the Polish zloty, said the company, which added that Poland accounts for around 40% of sales.

It also blamed a reduction in financial resources due to its ongoing bankruptcy protection and the general economic downturn.

Belvédère remains under special protection from creditors, after being granted the measure by a French court last July. The firm had intended to relaunch itself earlier this year, but has not done so due to continued court action from creditors on debt repayments.

In its first half, Belvédère said sales in Poland fell by a third, although the group's flagship Sobieski brand maintained market share. 

The US provided the bright spot in Belvédère's half-year sales, with Sobieski vodka sales more than doubling in volume, to 246.7m nine-litre cases from 103.9m in the first six months of 2008. Group net sales in the US rose 4.6% to EUR32.5m.

Belvédère faces a court hearing in September, in which the firm hopes to agree a schedule with creditors for debt repayments.

Net debt for the 12 months of 2008 was EUR552m, up from EUR428m in 2007, according to the company's annual results statement for 2008, released for the first time last Friday.

It also reported net losses of EUR61m for 2008, compared to profits of EUR0.9m in 2007.

According to French newspaper reports, the company's selected independent auditor, Mazars, has refused to sign off on its accounts.