9 March 2014
Norwegian F1 investment under scrutiny
Norges Bank Investment Management's stake in F1 is being questioned by ministers after the sport scrapped its IPO bid.
F1's convoluted ownership has come under the microscope once again, this time in Norway, following the recent acquisition of shares by the country's sovereign wealth fund.
Norges Bank Investment Management joined forces with US asset management company Waddell & Reed and a third investor, BlackRock, to relieve F1 rights holder CVC of 21 per cent of its holding in the sport in early May 2012. The combined deal was worth $1.6bn – a figure increased when Waddell & Reed returned for a second slice of the pie, worth $500m – but the Norwegian's involvement has now raised concerns in the national parliament, with ministers calling for an enquiry.
According to Reuters, there are concerns that Norges Bank Investment Management overstepped its remit by buying into the sport, despite the acquisition being made in the belief that F1 was going to float itself on the Singapore stock market. The fund is reportedly only allowed to take a stake in an unlisted company if it is planning an initial public offering, but F1 canned its plans shortly after the three-way sale was agreed.
"I have sent a written question to the finance minister on this question and she has six days to reply," Liberal minister Terje Breivik claimed, "The way it is reported in the media, this suggests that this was at the very limit of what the fund is allowed to do."
Hans Olav Syversen, the head of the Norwegian parliament's finance committee, is due to question Norges Bank Investment Management and the central bank about the deal in the next couple of weeks, while the Norwegian parliament debates possible reforms to the way the fund operates.
"The board [of the central bank] was specially informed about this deal because this was a special investment, but also because it was a significant investment in an unlisted company." governor of the central bank, Oeystein Olsen, said.
CVC's own investment in F1 has been under scrutiny in recent weeks, with the sport's head man, Bernie Ecclestone, accused of entering a 'corrupt bargain' with German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky to ensure an appropriate price for BayernLB's holding. German company Constantin Medien brought the matter to the High Court in London after claiming that it had been cut out of a share of the proceeds of the sale after the price failed to reach the $1.1bn minimum set out in its agreement with the bank.
Ecclestone was cleared of deliberately undervaluing the price to the detriment of Constantin, but the presiding judge said that he believed the 83-year old's payment of $44m to Gribkowsky constituted a bribe to ensure that CVC emerged as the preferred bidder.
The decision only serves a temporary reprieve for Ecclestone, who still looks set to face similar legal battles in Germany and Switzerland. He had already been indicted on bribery charges by the German courts, while both Swiss authorities and, more recently, BayernLB had made it clear that they were considering the possibility of separate actions. Constantin, meanwhile, has indicated that it also intends to pursue an appeal against Mr Justice Newey's verdict.
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