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F1 is $300m poorer... but where did it go?

NEWS STORY
18/05/2009

There's a global recession, sponsorship budgets are being slashed, corporate hospitality expenses are being cut and disposable income is at an all time low. The last thing that F1 needed over the past 12 months was to have to pay out a $300m bill but this is exactly what happened. The worst thing is that we haven't got a clue as to who it was paid to.

This extraordinary turn of events is revealed by Pitpass' business editor Chris Sylt in the Express newspaper and it is sure to spark the ire of the F1 teams who were already irked by the fact that the sport is paying out hundreds of millions of dollars annually in debt repayments courtesy of its owner the finance firm CVC. Now the teams will have to get their heads around the fact that yet more money has been taken out of F1 and paid to a mystery firm in Switzerland. It all relates to a loan which was given to the sport nearly a decade ago.

Way back in 2001, F1's parent company SLEC Holdings took out a loan which it used to buy the 100-year rights to the sport from the FIA. At the time, SLEC was majority-owned by the now-bankrupt German media company Kirch, whose subsidiary, Formel Eins Beteiligungs (FEB) gave SLEC the lion's share of the $313.7m which it cost to buy the rights.

To cover this, FEB itself took out a loan from Credit Suisse. The bank later sold this right to repayment and it passed through several obscure organisations including a trust in Liechtenstein. Ultimately it ended up in the hands of Swiss-based finance firm Kamos, which bought it at auction for a reported $5m.

In December 2005, a month after CVC announced its acquisition of F1, Kamos called in the loan and then took legal action after SLEC claimed it was not legally repayable. SLEC eventually committed to repayment during court proceedings but no money changed hands as there was a dispute over whether it should be paid to Kamos or Kirch's administrator.

In May 2008 the UK High Court ruled that Kamos, not Kirch's administrator, should be the claimant however its case was dismissed five months later. No mention was made as to whether Kamos had received repayment and no order was made about costs. However, Ecclestone has revealed to Sylt that "it's all been settled...it's been paid." Alluding to the way the original sum was borrowed, Ecclestone says "it's a bit naughty what they did," however, he adds "I'm still very good friends with Leo [Kirch]."

Clearly the F1 teams cannot legitimately complain about the sport paying out money for a loan which it took out many years ago. However, what may worry them is that they don't even know who the lucky recipient of the $300m is.

As a Swiss company, Kamos' shareholders are not listed on public records. Peters & Peters, the London-based law firm which represents Kamos, had previously been happy to comment on its client's case but now refuses to do so.

Whoever is behind Kamos, their timing of buying the loan before CVC bought F1 and then calling it in afterwards was perfect. This is because CVC had the funds to cover the repayment even if F1 itself didn't and accordingly, CVC was mentioned in the original lawsuit. And what a return Kamos has made. If indeed it did buy the loan for $5m it will have made a 60 times return on investment. Even Bernie must be envious of that.

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