Čtvrtek 8. prosince 2022, svátek má Květoslava
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Lidovky.cz

Temporary salvation offered in Slavia horror story

  17:30

Slavia football club appears to have been given a cash lifeline by the mysterious Natland Group, but its long-term future is still not secure

Fanouškům Slavie došla trpělivost. I kdyby měla Slavia v dnešním pohárovém utkání se Sigmou Olomouc kontumovat, jsou připraveni obsadit plochu hřiště a počkat si na vysvětlení nepřehledné situace kolem svého klubu. Ve svém prohlášení neváhají vyzývat k vymýcení ďábla po svém (rozuměj po zlém). foto: © www.slaviaultras.czČeská pozice

Slavia supporters called for a massive demonstration at the club’s Eden stadium on Thursday evening ahead of the cup game against Sigma Olomouc. They were calling for a clear answers from current management about who owns the club, whether its future was guaranteed, and who might be lined up to buy it — with the demonstration to go ahead unless they were satisfied.

The supporters’ group organizing the demonstration described it as a last chance for the current management to explain themselves. “Everyone knows which people are responsible for the current situation (Franc, Doležal, Rosen, Jarolím, Kroužecký, Sisák, etc.), and we will not hesitate a minute if we find them,” the fan group warned ahead of the match.

Meanwhile, the Czech and Moravian Football Association (ČMFS) licensing committee met on Thursday to decide whether Slavia could play in the top Gambrinus League next season due to its backlog of urgent debts in excess of Kč 100 million. But that verdict will now come over the next three weeks, before the end of the month. Thursday’s ČMFS committee meeting, according to Czech Position’s information, was solely an opportunity to present Natland Group representatives.

The Natland Group is the main, and at the moment, only company that has stepped forward with an offer to give the club a rapid financial injection. Board chairman Tomáš Raška told Czech Position that before Thursday’s cup game, players should have been paid part of their back wages. That pledge was fulfilled.

On Tuesday, the transport company Viamont of former Transport Minister Aleš Řebíček (Civic Democrats, ODS) was still in the frame as a possible savior for Slavia. But by 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Řebíček told Czech Position that talks had not worked out, and that Petr Sisák — the de facto current owner of Slavia Prague — had his own solution that did not count on Viamont. A forensic audit of the club is planned clear up the murky picture of club ownership and shareholder relations.

According to Czech Position’s information, the advantage of the Viamont link would have been that it already had a deal with British sports and entertainment group ENIC, which is demanding fast repayment of loan in excess of Kč 100 million. A forensic audit of the club has also been lined up for the coming months to pierce the current murky picture of club ownership and shareholder relations. That should in turn prepare the ground for the entry of a strong strategic shareholder.

But who owns Natland?

Why should Natland Group be Slavia’s savior? Like it or not, for the moment it is the only player on the pitch. The strong international investor, whose interest Czech Position reported last week, at the moment has no intention of stepping into the chaotic situation surrounding the club and stadium.

Even so, Natland Group is hardly a transparent entity. The owner of the company is Natland Group Limited, which is registered in Cyprus. That company has two owners: Magna Group Limited and Bovis Enterprises Limited, both based in another well-known offshore location: the Seychelles. Magna has an 80 percent stake in Natland Group and Bovis the remainder.

But it is still impossible to ascertain who controls Natland Group. Spokesman Rostislav Starý maintains that it is Tomáš Raška and Jan Koťátko; in Prague financial and business circles, however, there is speculation that the Natland Group is controlled primarily by Prague businessmen Tomáš Hrdlička and Roman Janoušek, who have very close ties with prominent politicians.

Czech Position tried to contact the two for comment but Hrdlička didn’t answer his mobile phone and Janoušek’s secretary promised he would call back. We’re still waiting for his call. Natland’s spokesman denies Janoušek and Hrdlička are in anyway involved with the firm. “We have nothing in common with Mr Hrdlička and Mr Janoušek. We refute that Natland has ties with Petr Sisák, as has also been reported in the media,” Starý said.

Natland Group provides financial and investment services in private equity and real estate. The group operates with money from private and institutional investors that it invests into projects with strong growth potential that the firm identifies on Central and Eastern Europe markets. The firm does not limit investments to a single sector and assess opportunities on an individual basis.

Will Prague 10 get a share of Eden?

A key to understanding the current situation is the relationship between Hrdlička and representatives of the Prague branch of the Civic Democrats (ODS), and more specifically, Prague 10 Mayor Milan Richter. The two may have exactly the same interests in the Slavia affair. The Eden stadium where Slavia and Bohemians 1905 play their home games is a considerable property asset in the Prague 10 district, and Slavia is of important social significance for a large circle of Prague politicians and businessmen. The chaotic state of affairs surrounding Slavia and the Eden stadium is certainly not beneficial for the political representatives of Prague 10. The chaos surrounding Slavia and the Eden stadium is certainly not beneficial for Prague 10 representatives.

Additionally, it is in Richter’s strong interests to resolve another scandal involving investment firm Key Investments. The Slavia crisis could present an opportunity for Richter and his associates to kill two birds with one stone. In 2010, Prague 10 entrusted Kč 200 million to Key Investments to manage an investment portfolio with public funds and is now trying in vain to get the money back.

Key Investments spent Kč 100 million of Prague 10’s money on debt bonds issued by E Side Property, which is the owner of the Eden stadium. The bonds are now worthless and mature only in 2024. Richter, however, doesn’t have much time and certainly wouldn’t want to wait 13 years. He must therefore find a way to valorize the bonds.

Thus, there is the possibility that Richter, his associates and his ODS deputies on the Prague 10 Council will attempt to gain a significant stake in E Side property in exchange for the company’s bonds. If Richter manages to pull this off, he would no longer have to search for a way of getting Kč 100 million from Key Investments, and the Prague 10 administration would gain a large say in the running and future of the Eden stadium.

The question is whether E Side Property, which is allegedly controlled by the businessman Vladimír Kroužecký, would agree to such an arrangement. Some of Czech Position’s sources say that that Kroužecký is the decisive figure in Key investments, although Kroužecký told Czech Position just several days ago that these assertions are groundless. It appears that it’s the same businessmen who are trying to resolve the future of both Slavia and the Eden stadium.

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