Experts agree that the financing terms for the construction of the multipurpose O2 Arena in Prague’s Libeň district were disastrous and ultimately led to the bankruptcy of the national lottery firm Sazka. Now the man behind the project, former Sazka boss Aleš Hušák, says he now wants to buy it back along with a winery belonging to Sazka. But where would he get the money?
Hušák took such personal pride in his role in promoting the construction of the O2 Arena, originally named the Sazka Arena, that the multipurpose sports and entertainment complex was dubbed “Hušák’s living room.”
The project was the ruin of the once highly profitable Sazka, which was the main source of public financing of sports associations in the Czech Republic until practically all funds were diverted to finance the arena. Most real estate experts agree — especially as regards the financing terms — that it was a folly for Sazka to try to realize the project alone without some degree of financial support from the state or Prague City Hall.
The O2 Arena is owned by Sazka subsidiary Bestsport. Sazka itself was majority owned by the Czech Sports Association (ČSTV), but this year was bought out by PPF Group and KKCG — owned by the Czech entrepreneurs Petr Kellner and Karel Komárek, respectively — after being declared bankrupt. Kellner and Komárek now run Sazska’s lottery and other betting operations through the firm Sázková kancelář. It is reportedly just a matter of time before Sázková kancelář takes over control of Bestsport.
‘The scene of the crime’
In an interview with the daily Mladá fronta dnes (MFD), a summary of which was published today, with the full version set to run on Tuesday, Hušák reveals his desire to take over the O2 Arena and the Kolby winery (in which, according to Sazka’s last available annual report from 2009, the lottery firm has a 99.99 percent stake).
“Will the criminal return to the scene of the crime?” MfD wrote on Monday, adding that Hušák denies he is in line to receive some form of compensation from Kellner and Komárek in return for his dropping legal proceedings against the declaration of bankruptcy of Sazka just before he resigned as the lottery firm’s CEO.
“There are several things in Sazka in which I’m interested. I’m saying it openly that I’m interested in the arena and the winery,” Hušák told the daily. “They’re what I wish for, but for the time being it’s all theoretical. However, if that property becomes available on the market and there will be an open sale, I don’t see why I couldn’t bid for it,” he added. Hušák did not say, however, where he would get the money from.
According to MfD’s information, Kellner and Komárek are willing to sell the Kolby winery but not the O2 Arena. In November, the auditing firm Ernst & Young evaluated the O2 Arena at Kč 1.37 billion, and Kč 1.57 billion including removable assets.