Finnish arena could be seized under new sanctions
A new package of EU sanctions on Moscow could pave the way for the Finnish authorities to seize the Russian-owned former Hartwall Arena in Helsinki.
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, but shuttered in early 2022 following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
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 Vladimir Putin.
The 12th package of EU sanctions will be decided in December. According to a new report by Finnish News Agency STT, via The Insider, individuals who are subject to sanctions could be given the opportunity to sell their frozen assets, although the proceeds of the sale would remain frozen. The assets would be confiscated if they refuse to sell.
STT reports that property can be expropriated in cases of “public need”, with the owner of the property receiving compensation. Although, again, the funds would be frozen in the case of the arena.
“At the moment, the interests of the owners are to promote trade. And there are plenty of buyers”
In September this year, Timchenko’s Finnish case manager Kai Paananen told Helsingin Sanomat that the sale of the venue was being negotiated.
“During the past year, there have certainly been moments when the negotiations for the sale of the arena have not progressed, but now the situation is different,” said Paananen. “Of course, the current owners of the arena ultimately decide whether they will sell their shares or not. There is currently no certainty about this, but as said, at the moment, the interests of the owners are to promote trade. And there are plenty of buyers.”
Beverage giant Hartwall ended its 25-year association with the building – since renamed Helsinki Halli – last year due to its Russian ownership.
Finnish publication Ilta Sanomat notes that the city of Helsinki is losing more than €100 million per year due to the closure, with Tampere’s 15,000-cap Nokia Arena taking over as the country’s leading events venue.
Earlier this year, Finland’s Flow Festival also ended its brand partnership with Heineken Silver due to the lager firm’s operations in Russia.
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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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Flow ends Heineken partnership over Russia war
Finland’s Flow Festival has announced it has ended its brand partnership with Heineken Silver due to the lager firm’s operations in Russia.
Heineken has been in Russia for 20 years and is the third largest brewer in the country, with around seven breweries and an 1,800-strong workforce. But despite announcing it is “committed” to leaving Russia, the firm is still working towards detaching itself fully – prompting Flow to cut ties ahead of this weekend’s festival.
“When we were informed about Heineken’s situation in Russia in the spring, we had discussions with the festival’s main partner Hartwall about the presence of different products at Flow and evaluated the situation together,” says Flow Festival CEO Suvi Kallio.
“Based on knowledge at that point, Heineken was to leave Russia during the spring. Unfortunately, this has not happened up to this point.
“We have reassessed the situation and come to the conclusion to end the partnership and brand cooperation with Heineken. Heineken Silver will be replaced with Hartwall’s other products at the festival.”
Amsterdam-headquartered Heineken said in April that waiting for the Russian Federation to approve the sale of its business in Russia.
“Heineken is committed to leaving Russia and we’re doing everything we can to find a suitable new owner for our business”
The Dutch brand released the following statement earlier this year: “We are shocked and saddened by the war in Ukraine. The strength and resilience of the Ukrainian people is remarkable, despite the continuing horrors that are happening in the country.”
It continued: “Heineken is committed to leaving Russia and we’re doing everything we can to find a suitable new owner for our business while taking care of our local employees.
“The situation in Russia is unprecedented and the reality for businesses with large production and manufacturing operations in the country is challenging and complex.”
Flow Festival takes place at Suvilahti, Helsinki, from 11-13 August. The event will feature around 150 acts including Lorde, Blur, Wizkid, Kaytranada, Christine & The Queens, Tove Lo, Devo, Pusha T, Caroline Polachek, Suede and Moderat.
Finland’s largest arena Helsinki Halli has been left unused since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year. The former Hartwall Arena is owned by Arena Events but has laid empty since two of the company’s co-founders, oligarchs Gennady Timchenko and Boris Rotenberg, were added to the UK’s sanctions list shortly after the war began in February 2022.
Beverage giant Hartwall ended its 25-year association with the building due to its Russian ownership, while scheduled shows by acts such as Kiss, The Cure, Eric Clapton and Queen + Adam Lambert were relocated.
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The Tiger Lillies pave the way for touring in Ukraine
The Tiger Lillies have paved the way for international acts to tour Ukraine with their recent performances in Lviv and Kyiv.
The British trio, whose latest album Ukraine is inspired by the war, are thought to be the first international act to play full-scale concerts since the Russian invasion last year.
Having previously played in Ukraine, including in 2014 after the Maidan Revolution and Crimea’s annexation by Russia, the Tiger Lillies were invited to return by the same promoter, Yougin Kibets.
“Tiger Lillies will be my breakthrough to write to a lot of agents, saying that you can see we did our first live show”
Kibets – who used to promote about 70 shows, mostly with non-Ukrainian acts – hopes the band’s performances (which were paid) will attract other foreign acts: “Tiger Lillies will be my breakthrough to write to a lot of agents, saying that you can see we did our first live show.”
Though the Tiger Lillies are the first foreign act to deliver a fully-fledged gig, Ukraine has seen pop-up performances from the likes of U2’s Bono and The Edge, Slovakian musician and Pohoda festival founder Michal Kaščák, US video game composer Paul Romero and British hip-hop stalwarts Stereo MC’s.
Ukraine’s music industry is starting back up and fans are hungry for live entertainment, according to locals, but it’s still far from business as usual in the war-torn country.
Concerts usually finish by 10:30 pm due to a midnight curfew in most parts of the country and are sometimes interrupted by air raids; audiences and artists have diminished due to emigration and recruitment for the armed services; the logistics for international acts visiting the country are complex and dangerous.
“But if you have an audience there and they haven’t seen you play for a long time, then I think people should go,” says bassist Adrian Stout.
Q&A: Russia’s Pop Farm on starting over with a new business
Russian promoter Pop Farm has rebranded and relocated, as Putin’s ruthless invasion of Ukraine continues into a second year.
Formerly based in Moscow, Pop Farm promoted artists including Ed Sheeran, Imagine Dragons, Billie Eilish, Twenty One Pilots, Royal Blood, Kasabian, The Prodigy, Arctic Monkeys and Foals, and organised the international festival, Bol.
Founders Andrey Samorukov and Dmitry Zaretsky have now launched their new promoting business, Honeycomb, headquartered in the Serbian capital of Belgrade and already operating in more than 10 European countries.
In an exclusive interview with IQ, the pair discuss what it was like to see their 10-year business decimated, how they’re building a new life and business, and why they’re feeling strangely inspired…
IQ: Putin declared war on Ukraine on 24 February 2022. At what point did you realise what it meant for your business?
We knew the week before the war, it was the end of our business. We already had calls from agents saying that the artists wanted to cancel the shows. It was obvious from the start we weren’t going to be able to continue business in Russia. At the same time, we were shocked because a war was happening and it was terrible. We were on the phone with our friends from Ukraine, asking if everyone was safe or not.
What was the damage control like for your business?
When one artist cancels a show, it’s bad. When 20 artists cancel shows, it’s a mess. Our roster was 95% international acts and obviously, all the shows were cancelled. The other 5% of our roster is domestic artists who take an anti-war stance – they are officially banned from Russia, meaning they are so-called enemies of the states. The whole business collapsed for us. The only thing we’re doing in Russia right now is refunding tickets for cancelled shows. It’s a lot of money.
“When one artist cancels a show, it’s bad. When 20 artists cancel shows, it’s a mess”
How much money did you have to refund fans for cancelled shows and festivals?
In our case, 10 million euros. We had to deal with the customers very quickly. Hundreds of thousands of people came to us in one day asking for money. We had people saying ‘I sent you an email five minutes ago. Why didn’t you refund it yet?’.
How were you physically able to process 10 million euros’ worth of refunds?
Most of it has to be managed manually because people were writing from, let’s say, 10 different emails about the same ticket and some people were trying to get refunds for shows that happened during Covid but which they did attend, so we can’t just automatically process refunds. Almost 12 months later we’re still in the process of refunding customers. We’ve got a whole team working on it. However, quite a few of our ticket buyers, especially for the festivals, said “We are going to hold on to our tickets because we want to support you for all the good that you’ve done for us in the last 10 years, so keep the money.”
“Hundreds of thousands of people came to us in one day asking for money”
Did any of the money get stuck with ticketing companies?
The market wasn’t ready to face such difficulties. The money for all of our shows was with ticketing companies, some of which went bankrupt, and it’s still our responsibility. Some were in better positions than others. Something you have to keep in mind is, if you refund the ticket, the ticketing company keeps the commission separate. They’re still doing business; we are not. Also, there were technical difficulties. If people bought tickets with Apple Pay or Google Pay, it’s almost impossible to get the money back because the technology just doesn’t exist in Russia anymore.
Did you already have a financial hangover from the Covid pandemic?
Yes. The Russian live music association called for a moratorium on refunds during the pandemic but it didn’t happen. It was pretty hard to be expected to cover all the losses during the last two years. We expected that the business would be open by summer 2022 – and we had some amazing shows lined up – and then everything we did was lost. We were just spending the money. We moved shows and then we cancelled the shows. Covid was the first blow and the second blow [the war] was the final one.
“Covid was the first blow and the second blow [the war] was the final one”
Tell us about the setup of your new business, Honeycomb.
We just rented an office in Belgrade, where we’ve relocated the whole team. The countries we’re operating in are Serbia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Croatia, Hungary, Georgia, Armenia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. In all these countries, we’ve opened companies with our local partners. We found the promoters in those places – or people related to the music business – and offered to build a company together.
And we’re not middlemen who book the shows, we are actually promoters. All the bookings come from both of us. We have a share in all these companies and we are financially involved in every show. What we get from the partners is help with lawyers and accountants, as well as relationships with venues and an understanding of the local scene. We have a centre in Belgrade that sets up marketing, ticketing, logistics and production advancing. We have very skilled production managers and promo people in all offices too. We are building a system and a network – it takes a lot of time. On one hand, it’s difficult and on the other hand, it’s inspiring us – it’s refreshing. It’s pretty difficult to start your business life again but in a strange way, it’s not bad.
“It’s pretty difficult to start your business life again but in a strange way, it’s not bad”
How much do these markets differ from Russia?
Russia is just one country but if you promote across Europe, you have to spend much more time on everything. If you’re working on a one-week tour, it takes three months. We felt there was a lot of potential in these markets. The idea was not to promote in just one market but to find their neighbouring markets and build a chain. We want to provide a service to artists and agents and managers and make their lives easier. Of course, there are financial and economic problems in these countries but we’ve been digging into these markets and there’s huge potential. But also, it’s not just about business and money but about how inspired we are. We have the chance to start from scratch and build something new, that doesn’t exist.
Have you managed to keep any of your Pop Farm clients?
We are talking to everyone and everyone wants to continue to work with us and that inspires us a lot. We had a show with Louis Tomlinson in Russia, for example, which didn’t happen due to Covid and but we have a new show with him in Greece. Last November, we promoted shows with Oliver Tree in Istanbul and Belgrade, which sold out. Those were Honeycomb’s first shows with an international act and we worked very hard on the marketing and everything. It was absolutely fantastic and very emotional. At the moment we are offering tours for international acts – club, arena and stadium levels.
“We will build cultural bridges between our countries and help very talented artists to showcase their talent”
Bol festival was a staple of your portfolio. Do you have any plans to launch a new festival in your new markets?
Yes, but we don’t just want to create a major festival with some cool and huge artists – that’s not something we’re interested in. We want to send a message about music and culture. We want to deliver a unique product that’s more than a festival with some beer and bands. Bol festival was a cultural phenomenon in Russia, it was built around community. In Russia in the mid-2010s – a time of cultural isolation and traditional values – Bol (pain) appeared; a homemade festival of independent music with an anti-commercial name. Over the next seven years, despite all the laws of the market, “Pain” has become the main festival in Russia, which unites a new generation of musicians and listeners around it — and shows how to achieve inner freedom in unfree circumstances.
Bol festival contrasted the illusions of comfort and security, which the Moscow government diligently created, with the feeling of living life in all its uncomfortable complexity. Bol abandoned the model of the festival as a celebration of consumption, focusing on energy, sound and meanings. Instead of careful programming of the user experience, Bol offered a head-on collision of genres and contexts, from which something new, unusual, and important could be born – and was born. Thus, breaking all conceivable industrial rules, Bol has become a unicorn among Moscow music festivals: a space of freedom and self-expression for people who were born in Russia at the turn of two millennia. We made a festival which wasn’t InIt’s something to be discussed with our partners in each market who have a holistic understanding of what exactly their local audience needs right now.
Have you been supported by the international live music industry during the last year?
The business is about people first, not about politics. The centre of business for us is London because all of the major agents are here and we’ve felt great support from them. And now we realise that what we’ve been doing for the last 10 years, wasn’t just about the business, it was forging good relationships and friendships which is very important for us. We will build cultural bridges between our countries and help very talented artists to showcase their talent throughout the world with our help, with our shows and with our professional skills. That’s the most important thing.
Finland’s former Hartwall Arena put up for sale
Hopes have been raised that Finland’s largest arena will be sold “very soon” after being left in limbo since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The former Hartwall Arena in Helsinki is owned by Arena Events but has laid empty since two of the company’s co-founders, oligarchs Gennady Timchenko and Boris Rotenberg, were added to the UK’s sanctions list shortly after the war began in February.
Beverage giant Hartwall ended its 25-year association with the building – since renamed Helsinki Halli – due to its Russian ownership, while scheduled shows by acts such as Kiss, The Cure, Eric Clapton and Queen + Adam Lambert were relocated.
However, according to Helsingin Sanomat, investors were informed during the company’s general meeting that the venue was now officially on the market, with the sale of the Russian businessmen’s shares progressing “reasonably”.
A “strong impression” was given during the company’s general meeting that the arena will be sold “very soon”
Reporting on the meeting, IS states there was a “strong impression” the arena would be sold “very soon”, although no prospective buyers were named. The publication has previously listed live entertainment giants ASM Global and CTS Eventim, as well as Finnish billionaire Mika Anttonen, owner of energy company St1, as interested parties.
Rotenberg and Timchenko reportedly own a combined 44% of the 15,500-cap arena’s holding company, Helsinki Halli Oy, but their combined voting power in the firm accounts for 93.9%.
The report notes that, due to the sanctions, money from any sale cannot be paid directly to Timchenko and Rotenburg, with experts suggesting the proceeds be placed in a frozen account and not released until after the end of the war. Helsinki mayor Juhana Vartiainen previously told HS that the completion of any deal would require permission from the ministry of foreign affairs.
Arena Events says it will be making no comment during the transaction process.
Russian artist fined after criticising war onstage
A veteran Russian artist has been fined for anti-war comments made onstage at a concert earlier this year.
Yury Shevchuk, the 65-year-old frontman of rock band DDT, was charged with “discrediting” the Russian Armed Forces after speaking out against the country’s invasion of Ukraine at the 8,000-cap show in his hometown of Ufa in May, video footage of which was posted online, reports The Moscow Times.
The Kremlin critic, who did not attend last week’s hearing in person due to Covid-related quarantine, received the maximum fine of 50,000 rubles (€842).
In court, Shevchuk’s lawyer Pavel Chikov, head of the Agora human rights group, read out a statement on his client’s behalf that he later published on Russian social media platform Telegram.
“I, Yury Shevchuk, have always been against wars in any country at any time”
“I, Yury Shevchuk, have always been against wars in any country at any time,” says the statement. “I stood against the wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Chechnya, Abkhazia, Georgia, Ossetia, in [Nagorno] Karabakh, Iraq and so on,” the musician said in his statement published by Chikov.
“I am also against the war in Donbas that has been going on for eight years and the current special military operation in Ukraine.”
Back in the spring, a blacklist of performers who have spoken out against the war in Ukraine was leaked to Russian media.
Pohoda on most “emotional and challenging” edition
The organiser behind Slovakia’s biggest festival has told IQ about “the most emotionally charged and the most logistically difficult year in the festival’s history”.
Pohoda (peace) returned to Trenčín airport last week (6–8 July) for the first time in three years, due to two pandemic-related cancellations.
According to CEO and booker Michal Kascak, more than 10,000 people held onto tickets they bought before the pandemic and ultimately, the 30,000-capacity event sold out.
The 25th-anniversary edition played host to artists from thirty countries including Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Confidence Man, Slowthai, Lianne La Havas, Metronomy, Sigrid and Wolf Alice, though it was acts from neighbouring Ukraine that stole the show.
Kascak says the most emotionally powerful concert came from the Philharmonic Orchestra of Luhansk, an area which has been a recent focal point during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The war in our neighbouring country, plus returning after three years of the pandemic, along with powerful performances brought a spectre of emotions, from total joy to gratitude, fellowship to sorrow,” says Kascak.
“I have never seen such enthusiasm and engagement like this year in the backstage of Pohoda”
“We know how lucky we are to hold a festival in a free democratic society – we could lose it in a second like our Ukrainian friends. I grew up under a communist regime, when a festival like this seemed like an unrealisable dream.
“We’ve been doing this for 25 years now and it is amazing to see people being together in all their diversity, enjoying art, life and creating a community of tolerance and peace. It shows that festivals have an important purpose.”
As if supporting their neighbours wasn’t enough to occupy Pohoda, the festival also had to deal with the kind of post-Covid issues that are affecting festival across Europe.
“We had a lack of volunteers and temporary workers. There were many problems with flights. We also had some covid-related cancellations,” lists Kascak.
“[Despite that], I was positively surprised how were people dealing with that. All the team did incredible job, I have never seen such enthusiasm and engagement like this year in the backstage of Pohoda.”
Ukraine’s Atlas raises 2m from ‘Goodbye Russia’ event
Ukraine’s biggest music festival has raised almost two million hryvnyas (€67,352) for the armed forces, from an online event titled Goodbye Russia.
Atlas festival would have taken place in Kiev last week (6–10 July) but due to Russia’s ongoing invasion of the country, the event wasn’t able to go ahead.
In lieu of the festival, the organisers held an online ‘festival show’ with the aim of raising UAH2m for 50 portable, solar-powered power plants capable of charging devices and equipment in the field.
According to an announcement, 40 power plants have already been collected by the military.
The organisers of Atlas festival have been increasingly active in raising money for relief in Ukraine
Artists including Fatboy Slim, Verka Serduchka, Dantes, Wellboy, Oleg Skrypka and KOLA were among the guests of the broadcast, which was streamed for over four and a half hours on YouTube, Megogo Live and Action TV on 10 July.
Alongside the event, cryptocurrency exchange Binance launched an NFT charity auction, in which the highest bidder wins a lifetime ticket to Atlas and proceeds go towards the power plants.
The organisers of Atlas festival have been increasingly active in raising money for relief in Ukraine, having organised two charity telethons and transformed its venue into a warehouse for supplies.
Donations can still be made here and the full stream of the Goodbye Russia online show can be watched below.
Uncertainty grows over former Hartwall Arena
The future of the former Hartwall Arena in Helsinki, Finland is unclear, with shows relocated and its naming rights partner terminating its long-standing sponsorship due to the venue’s Russian ownership.
The country’s largest arena, the 15,500-cap venue has been owned by Arena Events Oy (AEO) since 2013 but has been shuttered since two of the company’s co-founders, Gennady Timchenko and Boris Rotenberg, were added to the UK’s sanctions list following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Finland’s National Enforcement Authority reportedly confiscated Timchenko’s 22.5% holdings in the venue in April.
Helsinki-based Beverage giant Hartwall ended its 25-year association with the building soon after the war began, leading the arena to be renamed Helsinki Halli.
“The arena will not bear Hartwall’s name, and the Hartwall logo has been removed from the arena’s walls”
“The war started by Russia is an absurd and reprehensible act,” said Hartwall CEO Kalle Järvinen at the time. “We will no longer engage in marketing collaboration with Helsinki Halli due to the war in Russia. In the future, the arena will not bear Hartwall’s name and the Hartwall logo has been removed from the arena’s walls.”
High-profile 2022 concerts to have been moved include Kiss and The Cure, which were both switched to the 8,200-cap Helsinki Ice Hall, while Queen + Adam Lambert’s 24-25 July gigs will now take place at the 15,000-cap Nokia Arena in Tampere. Eric Clapton’s performance was also relocated to the latter venue.
“Due to ongoing sanctions pertaining to the situation in Ukraine, all Live Nation events originally scheduled to take place at the Hartwall Arena (Helsinki Halli) are being moved to alternate venues,” Live Nation told ticket-holders.
Shows by acts including Elton John, Dua Lipa and Bjork, meanwhile, were unable to be rescheduled and have now been cancelled.
“It is not possible to do business with Russians on the sanctions list”
A number of Finnish promoters have confirmed to IQ that the venue remains out of use for events as a result of the sanctions. Helsinki Mayor Juhana Vartiainen, meanwhile, has expressed his hope for a change in ownership to end the deadlock.
“It is not possible to do business with Russians on the sanctions list,” he said, reports YLE. “At this stage, we can only make sure that the hall pays its taxes and fulfils its obligations… My understanding is that a forced sale could come up in the event that Helsinki Halli does not pay its debts.”
YLE notes that Rotenberg and Timchenko own a combined 44% of the arena’s holding company, Helsinki Halli Oy, but their combined voting power in the firm accounts for 93.9%.
According to Iltalehti, the rent for the arena is due quarterly and was paid on time on its previous due date in April. The publication notes that due to the sanctions, the owners cannot sell the hall without the consent of the Finnish authorities.
The venue’s management has not responded to IQ‘s requests for comment.