The opaque financial group Natland announced on Tuesday that it has acquired a controlling stake in the UK-registered firm Eden Sport Investments Ltd., which is an umbrella for several firms connected with the FC Slavia Prague’s stadium in Prague 10, the Synot Tip Arena. Those firms include UK-registered E Side Property, which according to the cadastral register is the owner of Slavia’s stadium, which opened in 2008.
Prior to the deal, E Side Property was controlled by controversial businessman Vladimír Kroužecký, who is also linked to Key Investments, the non-transparent investment firm whose license has been withdrawn by the Czech financial market regulator, the Czech National Bank (ČNB). The administrations of Prague 6, 10 and 13 — all lead by mayors from the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) — entrusted a total of almost Kč 1 billion to Key Investments, which they have been attempting to retrieve for around a year with mixed success.
Taxpayers' money provided by the three Prague districts’ was used to buy bonds in E Side Property, together with bonds in other companies believed to be connected with Kroužecký and Key Investments.
Under the deal announced Tuesday, Natland Group has acquired an 80 percent stake in Eden Sport Investment, with Kroužecký Hochtief is still involved in a legal claim for Kč 200 million against E Side Property.retaining a 20 percent stake in the company. “The new structure of ownership of the company is a result of a wider settlement between Vladimir Krouzecky and the Natland Group,” Natland said in press release on Tuesday.
According to documents held by Czech Position, an agreement from 2008 giving E Side Property control of the stadium also establishes its Kč 180 million debt to the multinational German construction company Hochtief, which built the Eden stadium, and Kč 420 million to banks that financed the project.
The Synot Tip Arena, or Eden stadium as it is known among Slavia fans and locals, cost around Kč 1 billion to build.
“We are prepared to fully respect the liabilities of the company towards all creditors along with the financing bank and the [Prague 6, 10 and 13] town halls.” Natland’s investment manager, Richard Kolárik, said in the press release.
Hochtief is still involved in a legal claim for Kč 200 million against E Side Property. According to the land register, the bank Česká spořitelna, owned by Erste bank of Austria, and Hochtief still hold the stadium as collateral.
Asset strip speculation
There has been speculation in business circles that the true motive behind a deal to transfer ownership ‘If the transaction could endanger our receivables, we will use all legal means to secure our demands’of E Side Property to Natland might be a ploy to strip E Side Property of its all important asset – the Eden stadium, according to the wesite of the business weekly ekonom.cz,
Ekonom.cz asked Hochtief, Czech Republic’s CEO, Tomáš Bílek about the Natland acquisition but received a response from company spokesman, Michal Talián. “We followed the recent takeover of the football club SK Slavia by the company Natland and settlement of the historic creditor relations. Therefore, we’re convinced that with this partner [Natland] we will be able to reach a better understanding than in the dispute with the company E Side,” the spokesman said.
Nevertheless, the Hochtief spokesman also sounded a note of caution: “If the transaction could endanger our receivables, we will use all legal means to secure our demands,” Talián added.
Natland claims it bought into the Eden stadium as a long-term strategic investment: “We believe that we will succeed in making the stadium stable in a commercial and marketing terms and creating a cultural center accessible to the general public,” Natland’s Richard Kolárik said in Tuesday’s press release. “We would like to deepen the business relationships with the current tenants and further develop cooperation with football clubs and other leaseholders working in Eden,” he added.
As of the beginning 2011-2012 season, fellow top league Czech club Bohemians 1905 are also using the Eden stadium as their home ground.
Natland denies any connection with the powerful and controversial lobbyists Tomáš Hrdlička and Roman Janoušek. “The Natland Group never acts as an administrator for third parties. We are conducting this last transaction, like all others, for ourselves and with our own finances,” Natland spokesman, Rostislav Starý, told ekonom.cz.
Related article: Natland Group seen targeting E Side Property, not Slavia stadium