Czech entrepreneur Aleš Řebíček, a former transport minister, took control of a majority stake in Slavia Prague football club on Wednesday, Hospodářské noviny reported. Řebíček, who had held 28 percent of Slavia FC shares, reportedly bought a 70-percent stake in Viscontia, which was established by the investment firm Natland Group as the holding company for the majority shareholding in the famous Prague club.
“Having assessed all the circumstances and considering the fact that Aleš Řebíček presented us with a solid offer to buy up the stake in Viscontia, the Natland Group decided to sell the whole stake,” its director of investments, Josef Vojta, told HN. He added that as of Wednesday, Natland Group would cease all its involvement in the club, including removing its representatives from the board of directors.
Both the Natland Group and Řebíček refused to disclose the price agreed for the 70-percent stake in Viscontia.
In May this year Řebíček, now a successful entrepreneur, acquired almost a third of the shares in Slavia from Tomáš Rosen, an entrepreneur and former manager of the club, and Petr Doležal, who together took control of the club in 2006 under allegedly spurious circumstances from the British-owned, Luxembourg-registered company ENIC.
ENIC claimed the takeover by Rosen and Doležal in 2006 amounted to fraud as they had illegally raised the company’s registered capital by Kč 618 million to Kč 1.04 billion without their consent as the majority shareholder. It transpired that the scandal-ridden investment firm Key Investments was the entity behind the raise in capital. Only in 2008 did the club announce that Tomáš Rosen and Petr Doležal had been the majority shareholders since 2006.
Until June this year ENIC continued to claim it held over 95 percent of shares in the club. Then, following the acquisition by Natland of the majority stake, supposedly from Key Investments, Natland Group reached a settlement with ENIC, whereby the former bought out ENIC’s remaining shares in the club for an undisclosed amount. Nevertheless, following the agreement, ENIC said it was dropping its claim for Kč 110 million.
Natland Group claimed that prior to the deal-go-settlement with ENIC, it had a 50.8 percent stake in the club, with Řebíček owning 33 percent and ENIC 16 percent. ENIC, whose assets include the English Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur, previously rejected those figures at the end of May with its director Matthew Collecott insisting to Czech Position that the company still owned 99 percent of the club and was still waiting for a payment of over Kč 110 million stemming from its previous investments in the club.
When Natland took hold of the majority stake in May, it injected Kč 25 million into the indebted club, which saved it from bankruptcy. Prior to this the club had been unable to pay its players’ wages and meet other obligations. Each year clubs in the top flight of the Czech league must demonstrate to the Czech-Moravian Football Association (ČMFS) that they do not have any overdue have debts. This was certainly not the case with Slavia, which faced the prospect of being relegated from the first to the third division.
Some Slavia fans became increasingly frustrated with the owners’ and the management’s lack of progress in resolving the club’s financial predicament and staged a pitch invasion in May that led to the club being ejected from the Czech Cup.
Following the cash injection by Natland and the partial settlement with ENIC, the ČMFS issued Slavia with a license to play the top division, the Gambrinus Extraliga, in the 2011-2012 season.
Aleš Řebíček served as transport minister from 2006 to 2009 in the government of Miroslav Topolánek (Civic Democrats – ODS).