A large Russian fruit importer has filed for bankruptcy, according to a report from the Arbitral Tribunal of St. Petersburg, Russia.

Sunway Group of Companies, St. Petersburg, has been one of the larger fruit importers in the country and has handled imports of some U.S. fruits in recent years.

Translations of Russian media reports indicated Sunway on May 25 did not meet its obligation to pay credit-linked notes placed three years ago. Amount of nonpaid obligations is $27 million out of $50 million in notes, the reports said. It is uncertain how much money U.S. fruit exporters are owed.

Sunway owns banana plantations in Ecuador, controls its own shipping fleet and has built cold storage facilities and offices in several cities of Russia.

One U.S. exporter said the market for imported fruit in Russia has dropped off since performing very strongly from 2005-08.

U.S. fresh apple exports to Russia totaled $16.7 million in 2008, up from 10.5 million in 2007 and $8.8 million in 2006. However, U.S. sales of apples to Russia from January through March this year were off 35% compared with the same period in 2008.

“The Russian market is a slippery slope — I’m not selling anything there,” said Ferrel Hughes, senior vice president of Paramount Export Co., Oakland, Calif.

Hughes said the Russian market weakened considerably about six months ago, when oil prices plunged.

“The society as a whole has lost a  lot of steam because of cheaper oil and gas,” he said.

Hughes speculated Sunway might have been caught up in slow-pay situations with retailers and investments in a new warehouse.

However, Hughes said the Russian market could emerge stronger once the market shakes out vulnerable players.