Row erupts over soccer stadium

  • 2002-02-14
  • Kairi Kurm
TALLINN - Tallinn's city government is launching an investigation into the construction of Estonia's biggest soccer stadium, which city officials say has cost taxpayers millions of kroons that have yet to be accounted for.

The 15,000-seat Lillekula Stadium is expected to cost 170 million kroons ($10 million) when completed and will be jointly owned by the city and soccer club FC Flora.

But officials are now questioning whether city funds should be financing what they say is essentially a private venture. And they're asking questions about where the money has gone.

"It seems to me that we are dealing with a business project that belongs to one person or a small set of people that should not be sponsored by the city," said Toomas Vitsut, deputy mayor of Tallinn's city government. "The city should instead support sports facilities that are accessible to everybody. Supporting an elite project is not a city's task."

According to an agreement signed under former Mayor Juri Mois, the city was to pay 15 million kroons and receive a 16 percent share in a joint stock company that would own the stadium. The city also had the option of increasing its share to 27 percent.

But officials in the new administration say the city provided tens of millions of kroons more that were undocumented and have seemingly disappeared.

In addition, FC Flora delayed in forming a promised joint stock company. The company's share capital will reportedly be only 10 million kroons, city officials charge.

"The whole process is very unclear at this point," said Tallinn City Council Chairman Toivo Tootsen . "Where is this money? Where is this company? Why is its share capital only 10 million kroons, if the city alone has paid tens of millions of kroons? Why is the city's share so small? We expect answers to these questions in a couple of weeks. Then we can decide what to do next."

Under an existing agreement the city is supposed to receive an additional 1 percent increase in ownership in the stadium per day for each day FC Flora delays in forming the company past a Dec. 28, 2001 deadline.

In addition to the city's contribution, FC Flora also received funding from the football organizations FIFA and UEFA.

FIFA has contributed 18 million kroons and UEFA 10 million.

Andri Hobemagi, acting head of FC Flora, said he hopes to work with the city to iron out misunderstandings surrounding the stadium's construction.

He said the stadium was built not only for FC Flora, and it would host events beneficial to the city, including national team matches.

"Lillekula Stadium is not a business project, because it belongs to a sports club and a municipal (entity)," said Hobemagi. "Neither of these organizations aims to profit but is instead fulfilling a social demand. This is also the reason why we have until now not included any commercial funds in the project, which would place us in a situation where we'd have to think about profitability."

But other Estonian football clubs have begun to complain that FC Flora is unfairly getting a taxpayer-subsidized stadium.

Viktor Levada, president of FC Levadia, said the city should have supported the construction of several smaller stadiums and halls rather than one expensive project. He believes the funds sent by the international football associations were meant for establishing a national stadium.

"Aivar Pohlak, the sole owner of FC Flora, used the support of the state, the city, FIFA and UEFA for establishing a personal stadium," said Levada. "Only the team of FC Flora can train there. They even have their names marked on the seats everywhere. Our team has to train on (rundown) fields in the snow."