PRAGUE — Some 20 armed security agents occupied Markiza TV’s studio in Bratislava on Tuesday morning to facilitate the takeover by new license owner Gamatex. The Slovak company won the 51% majority share in the country’s only national commercial station in an auction Friday for a reported bid of 232 million crowns ($7 million).
Markiza is a member of the CME group of television stations, which operates throughout Central Europe. Standard & Poors immediately dropped CME’s rating from BB- to B+ following Tuesday’s events. That drop in credibility could affect interest rates on CME loans.
The basis of the circuitous takeover has been traced back to a pre-license financing deal initiated by Markiza general director Pavel Rusko in exchange for his half of Markiza Slovakia, the license holder. That debt and the Markiza rights were later sold to Marian Kocner from Gamatex.
Gamatex initiated bankruptcy proceedings against Rusko for his failure to either repay the debt or transfer license ownership.
Gamatex was subsequently sold to Vladimir Poor, a regional chairman of the ruling HZDS party. Speculation has tied the behind-the-scenes maneuverings to the vicious struggle leading up to the late September general elections in Slovakia. HZDS and its nationalist prime minister Vladimir Meciar have been falling in the polls.During his tenure, Meciar gained notoriety for his stranglehold on most domestic media. Markiza has been considered one of the few independent news sources in the country.
Sylvia Volcova, Rusko’s co-owner of the license, was appointed acting general director following Rusko’s surprise departure Tuesday.
Officially on vacation leave, Rusko reportedly headed for Prague to discuss events with CME management there. He has two weeks to appeal the court decision. He has been barred from acting on behalf of Markiza.