Signa Holding shareholders are calling for Rene Benko to withdraw

Signa Holding shareholders are calling for Rene Benko to withdraw
No longer wanted: Rene Benko

According to the newspaper, the signatories of the letter are the Austrian building contractor Hans Peter Haselsteiner, Fressnapf founder Torsten Toeller, Lindt & Sprüngli board chairman Ernst Tanner, coffee entrepreneur Arthur Eugster and the entrepreneur Julia Dora Koranyi-Arduini. This is what “Handelsblatt” and “Spiegel” report according to advance reports.

Signa did not initially respond to a written APA request.

The downturn in the real estate market is hitting Signa Holding hard. The holding company’s loss in the previous year amounted to around 505 million euros, the news magazine “News” recently reported with reference to the 2022 annual financial statements, which have not yet been published. According to the magazine report, liabilities rose from 634 million euros to 1.996 billion euros. The sporting goods retailer Signa Sports United recently had to file for bankruptcy.

Withdrawal via video call

According to “Spiegel”, the Signa Holding shareholders agreed during a video call that Benko must withdraw. Otherwise, according to the magazine report, the group decided that he should not receive any further money from the shareholders in order to secure the existence of his group. Benko has no operational role on paper, but is chairman of the advisory board of Signa Holding. Marcus Mühlberger and Christoph Stadlhuber are the managing directors of Signa Holding. Members of the advisory board include ex-Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer (SPÖ), Wüstenrot boss and ex-politician (FPÖ) Susanne Riess-Hahn, ex-Casinos Austria boss Karl Stoss and ex-RBI boss Karl Sevelda. Gusenbauer is also chairman of the supervisory boards of Signa Prime Selection, Signa Development Selection and Signa RFR US Selection.

Signa Holding is an investment holding company that is active in the real estate, retail (Galeria Kaufhof, KaDeWe, Signa Sports United) and media (minority shares in Krone and Kurier) business areas. The investment structures are complex and there are no consolidated financial statements for the group of companies. According to the commercial register (“Wirtschafts-Compass”), 77.5 percent of Signa Holding is directly and indirectly owned by private foundations around Benko. According to media reports, the shares of the Arduini and Eugster investor families and thus their voting rights are represented in trust by Benko. According to the commercial register, the Haselsteiner family private foundation holds 15 percent of the holding shares, Fressnapf Luxembourg around 4.5 percent and the Swiss manager Ernst Tanner around 3 percent.

Renovation expert should take over

According to “Handelsblatt” and “Spiegel”, the Signa shareholders are demanding that the German restructuring expert Arndt Geiwitz take over complete control of Signa as general representative. Before new money could flow, he should create complete transparency about Benko’s “convoluted and opaque empire.” According to Handelsblatt, the shareholders complain in their letter that questions about the balance sheet and the “precarious liquidity situation” have either not been answered or have only been answered inadequately by the management to date. According to the newspaper report, they also have “no information about the Signa Group’s current crisis management.”

Already on Tuesday, the always well-informed German “Lebensmittelzeitung” reported for the first time that Signa investors were calling for Benko to withdraw. According to a current online report in the trade newspaper, Benko is said to have signaled for the first time that he would “clear the field at Signa”.

Elbtower disaster: Hamburg mayor against help

After the construction interruption on the Elbtower, Hamburg’s mayor Peter Tschentscher ruled out state financial aid for the major project. The city will “not assume any financial burden,” the SPD politician told the news magazine “Der Spiegel”. The contracts with the Austrian developer Signa were “well negotiated”. If the project were canceled, the private investors would suffer great economic damage.

He assumes that, out of their own interest, they will “find a solution for resuming construction work.” On Monday, the authority for urban development and housing confirmed the construction interruption. Urban Development Senator Karen Pein (SPD) referred to possible contractual penalties and explained that Hamburg expects the construction project to be completed in accordance with the time periods and qualitative characteristics agreed in the purchase contract.

Signa Real Estate belongs to the Signa Holding of the Austrian billionaire Rene Benko. The 65-story Elbtower will be 245 meters high. This makes the building, designed by the office of star architect David Chipperfield, the third tallest high-rise in Germany after the Commerzbank Tower and the Messeturm in Frankfurt. According to previous information from Signa Real Estate, the skyscraper is expected to cost 950 million euros.

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