The latest in the long-running saga between Blackpool FC owner Owen Oyston and Valeri Belokon is due to be heard in the courts next week.
This will be the first hearing since June 21, with little progress being made in Oyston paying off his remaining £25m debt to the Latvian.
The hearing will take place at the Rolls Building in London on Wednesday, with an exact time still to be confirmed.
In the High Court last November, the Oystons were ordered to buy out Belokon for £31.27m after it was found they had illegitimately stripped the club of cash following the club’s promotion to the Premier League in 2010.
Justice Marcus Smith found then that the Oystons had unfairly prejudiced the club’s former director, who accused them of “improperly” extracting tens of millions of pounds from the club.
The judge found in his favour and the club was put up for sale four days later.
What happened at the last hearing in June?
A High Court judge ruled that a number of Owen Oyston’s properties, as well as shares in his company that owns the majority of shares in Blackpool Football Club, should be sold to raise money to pay off Valeri Belokon.
Justice Marcus Smith made an order, which came into effect on July 5, that seven unidentified properties should be put up for sale to pay the £25m he still owes. He also ruled that Oyston’s shareholding in Blackpool Football Club (Properties) Limited (formerly Segesta Ltd) and Closelink Ltd, which owns Whyndyke Farm land, the site of a proposed 1,400 home garden village, must also be sold. This process would likely take place at auction, it was heard.
The court also heard that Oyston had failed to meet deadlines for paying two previous costs orders: £50,000 in April and £40,000 by the beginning of June. The judge this time attached a penal notice to his £60,000 pay-up order.
Oyston was told if he failed to pay on time he will be in contempt of court and liable to imprisonment, fine or having his assets seized. The judge said Oyston had brought the high costs on himself by his filing of late evidence, such as the day before this hearing.
What’s happened since then?
In truth, not a lot. Or if it has, it’s not been played out in public. Either way, we appear no closer to regime change or a resolution to the legal issues than we were during the summer.
Things seemed to be progressing when Owen Oyston, reportedly joined by daughter Natalie Christopher and Jonathan Disley, travelled to Riga in July to hold talks with Valeri Belokon. Belokon’s representatives told The Gazette the meeting went well and were hopeful the talks would help bring a resolution to the matter.
It appears Oyston persuaded Belokon to grant him 14 days to wrap up a deal with Disley, described as a “complicated transaction”, that would go some way to repaying the debt, with the auctioning off of Oysten’s assets put on hold in the meantime. However, the deadline was missed and no further news emerged.
That remained the case until the start of August, when Oyston released a 1,000-word statement on the club’s website where he offered his controlling stake in the club to Belokon for £5m. However, his offer made no mention of the Bloomfield Road stadium, hotel or training ground - which is currently considered unusable with the squad training in Preston instead. It was the first public announcement from either side since the two parties met in Latvia the previous month. Belokon made no public response to the offer.
At the end of August, Natalie Christopher, in her first interview as the club’s chairwoman, told BBC Radio Lancashire the club was no longer for sale. She said: “Whatever people think of him (Owen), good or bad, he does love the club and I think he’d be devastated not to be a part of it anymore. In an ideal situation for him, he’d like to be able to agree a settlement and find the money and move on from this. He’ll only sell if he absolutely has to.”
Elsewhere, Normunds Malnacs, the club’s former director and close associate of Belokon, left the Latvian’s employment. Jonathan Disley, meanwhile, remains in talks with Oyston and has been staying at the club’s hotel for an extended period of time. He has also been spotted at a number of Blackpool’s games in the directors’ box, alongside Oyston.
On the pitch, Blackpool were thrown into further turmoil when Gary Bowyer resigned just one game into the new season. His assistant Terry McPhillips took the job on a temporary basis and, in September, was eventually appointed the club’s new full-time manager.
What can we expect from Wednesday’s hearing?
The High Court confirmed to The Gazette that three separate applications will be heard on Wednesday, but they were unable to reveal what they were without prior permission from both parties.
While exact details remain sketchy, it appears applications for orders for sale of Oyston’s assets have been made to help facilitate the long-awaited auction process. Another application could relate to the need for documents and deeds to be handed over. It has also been rumoured that the third application could refer to Oyston’s failure to pay court costs.
It’s not expected Wednesday’s hearing will deliver a killer blow to help force immediate regime change, but it’s likely to be another legal necessity to make progress towards the auctions.