Owen Oyston has been ordered by a judge to immediately pay up the £25m he owes a minority shareholder – or face the consequences of enforcement action being taken to make him sell his assets.
That could potentially mean the football club going into receivership, although the Latvian millionaire Valeri Belokon’s legal representative told the judge his client he would not pursue action against the club.
Owen Oyston was found to have “illegally stripped” the club of money following its promotion to the Premier League in 2010 and was ordered last November to pay £31.27m, plus interest, to Mr Belokon.
At a High Court hearing in December, a judge ruled that he could pay in stages. Oyston met the first £10m demand but failed to pay the second tranche by 31 January.
And he returned to the court today to ask for an extension until February 19 for a bridging loan for another £10m to be completed.
But Mr Justice Marcus Smith dismissed his application and instead reviewed the whole staging scheme, which included two lots of £7.5m by 30 March and 31 May.
He said Oyston had failed to progress the sale of assets, which had prejudiced Mr Belokon, and the Court of Appeal had now dismissed his application to overturn the original court judgement from last November.
“It seems to me that the time has now come for this court to acknowledge that the attempt by the court to hold the ring and to control the enforcement process has failed.
“It therefore seems to me that the only correct course in all the circumstances is to vary the order I made on December 18.”
The judge said he was keeping the order in place freezing various assets belonging to the Oyston Group.
But apart from that it was now appropriate to remove the staged payments and Mr Belokon can act at his “discretion” in how he enforced the financial obligations on Oyston.
The judge added that although Andrew Green QC for Mr Belokon had indicated how his client might proceed, particularly over the football club, the judge said it would be “wrong to regard that as anything more than an aspirational statement.
“And I make it clear that the petitioner’s [Mr Belokon’s] hands are completely untied as far as the assets of the respondent are concerned.”
The judge also awarded Mr Belokon an interim costs order for today’s hearing of £60,000.
It was standing room only in the court in the Rolls Building in London in the High Court’s Chancery Division.
Matthew Collins QC, for Owen Oyston, who attended dressed in a blue suit and matching blue fedora, applied for the two week extension saying a formal loan offer had been made but more time was needed for it to complete.
In addition the sale of the Travelodge for £9.725m was “imminent” and should be completed by the end of March.
He also asked for the timetable to be amended so all monies were due by May 31, but abandoned that request during the hearing.
Mr Collins said: “There’s no doubt we are in considerable difficulties. The problem may lie in mechanics rather than maths.”
He added that the group was asset rich, cash poor and he was asking for leeway to realise assets.
The QC said Oyston was keen to avoid “fire sales”, and he also referred to the “stigma” if a receiver was appointed.
If Mr Belokon took certain actions if the money became payable immediately, that could affect Blackpool FC, he suggested.
“It’s important to preserve the football club operation in the meantime.”
Mr Collins said: “Corporate insolvency re Blackpool FC Properties Ltd could be very damaging. It rather depends on what view the Football Association takes.
“They have a very wide discretion whether any proceeding like that has an impact on the club and if so they could impose a penalty of 12 points which in Blackpool’s case would lead to relegation.
“It would have a commercial impact on the gate receipts and that’s something we want to avoid.”
He suggested that Mr Belokon “is not in desperate need of £31m. This is just about the transfer of money between rich people”.
Andrew Green QC, for Mr Belokon, opposing the application for more time repeated his comment, made in December, that “enough was enough”.
“We have reached a point where the only conclusion is that the current regime is not working to anyone satisfaction and it’s no longer fair to Mr Belokon.”
“As Mr Oyston draws out the process by his constant ground hog day applications, this regime is costing Mr Belokon hundreds of thousands of pounds in monitoring their activities and coming back to court on a repeated basis.”
Mr Green said: “We are three months down the line and not one asset has been sold.
“And there have been multiple offers of sale on the table, not one property has been sold and others, on 13 properties, have been rejected.”
Mr Green referred to an email sent to the court that morning by Mr Oyston’s son Karl which confirmed that realistic offers had been made for properties but rejected by his father.
He continued : “Owen Oyston is simply incapable of accepting that parts of his property portfolio have got to be sold to meet the payments and he refuses to accept this even when faced with realistic prices.”
The court heard that Oyston’s portfolio was put at £142m.
The QC suggested that Oyston had refused to obey the court order and “give it a whirl in front of your lordship today”.
“That’s simply taking advantage of the regime put in place,” he said.
“He is congenitally unable to sell his property portfolio unless there’s a jolly big stick hanging over him.
“The totality of the money should now be viewed due and we can enforce.”
Mr Green said it would be for Mr Belokon to choose which assets to go after.
He added: “But the course of actions we are suggesting does not involve any threat to the club by Mr Belokon or the potential. Absolutely none at all.
“Mr Oyston is a very rich man and has huge assets. If he is a very rich man he can get a £30m loan, pay my client and fund the football club.”
A spokesman for Mr Belokon said: “Mr Belokon is pleased with the hearing outcome. He would like to thank Clifford Chance for excellent representation of his interests in the English courts. Mr Belokon will consult his lawyers before future steps.”
A spokesman for the English Football League (EFL) said: “The EFL has noted reports relating to the outcome of the latest hearing in the High Court today. The EFL will await further details from Mr Oyston and/or Mr Belokon, as to the possible implications for the club, before commenting any further.”