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F1 on track to be $300 million poorer

NEWS STORY
03/12/2006

The owners of F1, CVC Capital Partners and Bambino, the family trust of Bernie Ecclestone, have resigned themselves to paying back a $313m ($158m) loan taken out five years ago to buy the rights to the sport from the FIA.

To this day the loan still hasn't been paid back and so in July this year Swiss finance firm Kamos took legal action against Bambino and SLEC, the main F1 holding company. But as Christian Sylt and Caroline Reid report, a court hearing last month revealed that SLEC is prepared at last to cough up the money.

With CVC having spent $1 billion last year buying F1 this little payout is likely to come as a big blow. However, as with most business transactions in F1, there are still some twists and turns to be ironed out before the final lap is reached and the loan is paid off.

Whilst SLEC has agreed to pay the $313 million, who it owes the money to is not so clear. In a complex series of transactions, the right to reclaim the loan has been sold on several times since the money was first handed over in 2001 and F1's complex web of ownership further muddies the waters.

In 2001, SLEC was majority-owned by the now-bankrupt German media giant Kirch, whose subsidiary company, Formel Eins Beteiligungs (FEB) gave it the lion's share of the loan. To cover this, FEB took out another loan from Credit Suisse, secured on the right to repayment from SLEC.

The Swiss bank later sold the right and it ultimately ended up in the hands of Kamos which asked for the money from SLEC and sued after SLEC claimed the loan was not legally repayable. The Swiss firm is not the only party wanting to get its hands on the money.

Kirch's affairs are still unravelling in Germany, where a case is being heard to decide whether FEB should be paid the money. Next March, the High Court in London will rule on whether legal action in the UK should be delayed until the outcome in Germany is decided. SLEC says this is necessary so there is no confusion over who is owed the money.

However, it seems to have resigned itself to paying the loan.

"We have had open offers to pay... the full principal amount of the debt, subject to certain conditions," said Philip Marshall QC for Kamos at the recent hearing.

The payment would be a big drain on SLEC's key cash generating company Formula One Administration (FOA), which holds the sport's lucrative rights. Coincidentally, FOA made a $313 million profit last year - identical to the sum its parent has agreed to pay out for the loan.

The real winner out of this could be Kamos. In buying the rights to the loan it pulled off a deal even Bernie Ecclestone himself would be proud of. In September 2005 it bought the rights at auction for just $5 million. If it ends up being paid the $313 m (2.6m), this will give it a staggering 6,260% return on its investment.

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