Uhispank pulls the plug on TV station

  • 1999-03-04
  • Kairi Kurm
TALLINN - At one time, two Estonian couples led a luxurious life: They drove nice cars and managed one of the country's popular TV stations.

But now, Uhispank wants back the loans that made this life possible.

One of three private Estonian TV stations, TV1 might change hands in a couple of weeks now that Uhispank is trying to regain money loaned to the Sonajalg families.

Uhispank is offering TV1 for 90 million kroons ($6.43 million) to any company that brings the money to the bank first, said Uhispank Vice President Janek Maggi.

Finland's MTV3, Norway's Kinnevik and a U.S. company have already expressed interest in acquiring the TV station.

The two Sonajalg families, made a fortune in the early years of the Tallinn Stock Exchange. In 1996, they bought a bankrupt TV station - Tipp TV - and invested 50 million kroons in it, half of which they received from an American financial partner.

They succeeded in taking over the most popular serial, "Home & Away", from the Estonian state TV and hired professional anchors.

To keep the business running, the Sonajalgs borrowed more than 100 million kroons from banks, offering stakes in TV1 as a guarantee. When the time came to pay, Uhispank took over TV1 with the company's debts.

The bank also wants to receive the rest of the Sonajalgs' personal 23 million kroon debt. The bank already took their Lexus and may take some more of their personal property.

But the Sonajalg families claim that the bank had planned to take over the TV company from the very beginning.

"The loan contracts were finished against the law, and the bank has made several steps to push us away from TV1," Oleg Sonajalg told Aripaev.

No matter how upset are the Sonajalgs, Uhispank just wants to get its money back. The bank has recently sold a couple companies to clean its loan portfolio from bad loans.

"Our aim is to receive the bank's money back as fast as possible," said Maggi. "They want to get back the shares of TV1, but they do not want to pay their loans back. They can still get the shares of TV1 for the price of its debts. They claim that they have found an investor but we have not seen them," said Maggi.

The Sonajalg families had taken out too many loans which they were unable to pay back because they could not predict such a negative turn in the overall situation, Maggi said. TV1 has incurred losses every month.