Albanian football association in legal battle with gov’t over ‘denied’ UEFA tax refunds

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times January 30, 2019 12:29

Albanian football association in legal battle with gov’t over ‘denied’ UEFA tax refunds

Story Highlights

  • Albania’s football association says failure to get back €2 million in VAT refunds from UEFA funding of €10 million risks the completion of the National Arena stadium. The so called ‘tower stadium’ was initially scheduled to become operational in early 2019 ahead of Albania’s first Euro 2020 qualifiers in March, but delays in construction works and a tax dispute have now postponed plans for initial tests to mid-2019 and the stadium is likely to be ready for next September or November when Albania play their closing home Euro qualifiers against Iceland, Andorra and France.

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By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, Jan. 30 – Failure to settle amicably a tax dispute on the under-construction National Arena stadium, the new home of Albania’s national side in the Albanian capital city Tirana, has taken Albania’s football association and the government to court where football officials are seeking back €2 million in value added tax refunds.

Albania’s football association says failure to get back €2 million in VAT refunds from UEFA funding of €10 million risks the completion of the National Arena stadium. The so called ‘tower stadium’ was initially scheduled to become operational in early 2019 ahead of Albania’s first Euro 2020 qualifiers in March, but delays in construction works and a tax dispute have now postponed plans for initial tests to mid-2019 and the stadium is likely to be ready for next September or November when Albania play their closing home Euro qualifiers against Iceland, Andorra and France.

The legal battle at the first instance Tirana Administrative Court comes after a tax appeals body of the finance ministry turned down a complaint over VAT refunds due to delays in applying with tax authorities to get back the 20 percent amount.

Both the Albanian football association and the government are joint venture partners in the enterprise set up in 2014 to oversee the construction of the new stadium in the country.

The majority 75 percent stake at the “Qendra Sportive Kuq e Zi’ company [The Red and Black sports center named after Albania’s national side jersey] is held by the football association with the remaining 25 percent minority stake held by the Albanian government.

“We were told by tax authorities that our [VAT refund] application was delayed for several days, but I don’t think this is the case to cancel it. We appealed it with the finance ministry and it was again refused,” Football Association President Armand Duka said in a TV interview in late December 2018.

“I have talked to the Prime Minister and from the conversation I had with him, he is between two fires. The football association has obtained 100 percent of the stadium funds from UEFA and there can be no such financing where state authorities seek to take advantage of UEFA donations,” he added.

According to Duka, last December’s visit to Albania by UEFA’s Secretary General Theodore Theodoridis, who also reportedly met Prime Minister Edi Rama, was also related to the tax dispute over funds donated by the European football’s governing body.

In an announcement on its website, the Tirana Administrative Court says the football association is seeking the cancellation of decisions by the Tirana Regional Directorate and the tax appeals body at the finance ministry and the initial trial was planned for Jan. 22, 2019.

However, unless settled amicably, the legal battle in Albania’s three-tier administrative court system could take years due to a huge backlog of cases at the Administrative Appeals Court and the Administrative College of the Supreme Court, currently both functioning with limited staff due to a judiciary reform having ousted several judges for failing to justify their assets and delays in the establishment of the new justice bodies leading to key vacancies.

With construction works already in their final stage following the mid-2016 demolition of the old “Qemal Stafa” stadium, the football association has earlier warned failure to get back the €2 million tax refund would call the stadium completion into question.

The football association has hinted of politically motivated reasons behind the blockage, apparently related to incumbent football association head Armand Duka claiming a fifth consecutive term of office in early 2018 in a contested race by main rival Bashkim Fino, a former Prime Minister and current ruling Socialist Party MP.

 

New ‘tower’ stadium

The new ‘National Arena’ stadium is a €50 million public private partnership deal with a capacity of 22,000 seats that will also feature commercial, entertainment and accommodation facilities in a high-rise tower next to it. The Albanian football association has invested €10 million through UEFA funding.

An Albanian-owned company has invested €40 million to build the stadium in return for being offered public land and a permit to build a 24-storey tower next to it that will host commercial facilities, including a hotel that will be managed by US-based hotel giant Marriott International through a franchise deal with the developers, benefiting tax cuts as a high-end tourism investment in a popular downtown Tirana area.

The new National Arena stadium is being built on the site of former ‘Qemal Stafa’ stadium in Tirana, which ceased being used for international matches in 2013 after failing to meet international standards. Unlike the old stadium, the new facility has no athletics track, a key barrier for some of Albania’s athletes like Luiza Gega, a medal-winning middle-distance runner.

Former ‘Qemal Stafa’ stadium served as Albania’s national stadium for over 70 years since 1946 when it was inaugurated for the Balkan Cup as an Italian-designed facility.

Lacking a permanent home, the Albanian national football team has in the past five years played their home matches at the newly reconstructed Elbasan Arena and Shkodra stadiums, both reconstructed through government funding of around €14 million.

The Albanian football association which has invested around €10 million in the stadium project through UEFA funds will also get considerable facilities, but not have its headquarters there. The new football association headquarters that will also serve as an accommodation center for the national side are already being built elsewhere in Tirana at a former sports complex.

Albania will start their Euro 2020 qualifiers on March 22, 2019 with a home encounter against Turkey, a much more experienced national side, but who have been struggling to qualify for major tournaments during the past decade following a golden period in the 2000s.

Having missed a chance to keep qualifying hopes alive through the inaugural UEFA Nations League by finishing bottom in their League C, Group 1, and having also lost much of their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign shine during the past couple of years, Albania will be trying for another miracle qualification in a tough group stage where France are undisputed favorites for a top finish and Iceland, Turkey and Albania will rival for a second spot that also earns direct qualification for the Euro 2020 finals.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times January 30, 2019 12:29