COVENTRY City’s ‘owner’ Sisu has been given permission to appeal against a judge’s decision to refuse a High Court judicial review into the council’s Ricoh Arena sale to Wasps.
It is the latest twist in the off-field legal battle which has rumbled on in a five-year multi-party dispute.
London-based hedge fund Sisu claimed at the High Court in Birmingham in July that Coventry City Council and Alan Edward Higgs Charity’s circa £19million stadium company sale in 2014 unlawfully shortchanged the taxpayer under ‘state aid’ laws by around £30million, with an uncompetitive deal.
That claim was rejected by a judge in July whose decision will now be examined at a future hearing.
Sisu has suggested Wasps, already around £40million in debt, should pay the shortfall to the council.
Sisu is also seeking compensation for being denied the opportunity to bid for the stadium, built for the Sky Blues and propped up for years by the football club’s £1.4million rent.
A joint statement from George Duggins, leader of Coventry City Council and Gary Ridley, leader of the opposition Conservative Party, issued this afternoon, states: “We are naturally disappointed that the Court of Appeal has granted permission to appeal the decision made on 14 July 2017.
“However, we remain confident that we have a robust defence to all the claims, and that the decisions the Council took on 7 October 2014 were entirely lawful.
“Until the next hearing, we do not intend to make any further comment on the case.”
The ‘state aid’ claim was made on the basis that the stadium company, Arena Coventry Limited, was sold to then London Wasps Holdings Limited on a massively extended lease from 41 to 250 years.
ACL on the new lease term had later been independently valued at nearly £50million. The £19million deal included just £1million for the lease extension, £2.77million each for the council and Higgs’ charity’s shares in ACL, and paying off the council’s loan.
But the judge in July, Justice Singh, had rejected that claim as well as refusing a full judicial review.
A separate judicial review into an earlier Coventry City Council £14.4million taxpayer bailout of the Ricoh Arena was heard in 2014 – after a judge had initially refused to allow the hearing to take place.
Sisu had been successful in overturning that judgment, only to lose the subsequent judicial review, an appeal, and further attempts at appeal.