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Finland mulls options for Russian-owned arena

Finland is reportedly seeking ways to take control of the country’s largest arena, which has been shut since last year because of sanctions against its billionaire Russian owners.

Authorities in the capital city estimate that up to €400 million of income per year is being lost for hotels, restaurants and other businesses while the former Hartwall Arena in Helsinki is shuttered.

The 15,500-cap venue has been owned by Arena Events Oy (AEO) – a company co-founded by oligarchs Gennady Timchenko and Roman Rotenberg – since 2013.

All of Timchenko’s holdings in the European Union (EU) have been frozen, while Rotenberg’s family is the target of US sanctions for their close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Finland, which joined NATO in April in response to neighbouring Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is a firm supporter of EU sanctions but hopes an exception can be made to allow it to take control of the arena.

Several bidders have expressed an interest in buying the arena, but any sale price would be frozen until sanctions are lifted

The government is also considering options to expropriate the venue if the Russian owners refuse to sell their stakes voluntarily.

Helsinki mayor Juhana Vartiainen is hoping for the latter. “We are aware that active negotiations to sell the hall are ongoing and we hope that the transaction would proceed as quickly as possible, in order to get the hall back to the use of Helsinkians,” he told Reuters.

Several bidders have expressed an interest in buying the arena but under the current situation, any sale price would be frozen by Finland’s bailiff authority until the sanctions are lifted, Finland’s foreign ministry said.

The EU’s current sanction rules do not include expropriation of frozen assets, which could complicate that option, it added.

Beverage giant Hartwall ended its 25-year association with the building – since renamed Helsinki Halli – due to its Russian ownership.

Earlier this year, Finland’s Flow Festival ended its brand partnership with Heineken Silver due to the lager firm’s operations in Russia.


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