US capability lands UK firm Opap float in Greece; Athens and Piraeus reborn as branch offices

Norton Rose has proved that it is well and truly back in the Greek authorities’ good books by picking up its first instruction from the Greek government. It has advised the Hellenic Republic on the e500m (£321.5m) partial float of the Greek lottery and sports betting company the Greek Organisation of Football Prognostics (Opap).
This is a far cry from the situation less than two years ago, when The Lawyer revealed (21 August, 2000) that Norton Rose had fallen foul of regulations stipulating how international law firms could set up offices in Greece. At the time, the firm was forced to relaunch its practice as a chambers-style set-up to avoid criminal proceedings from the Greek authorities.
A number of UK firms with offices in Greece had been targeted by the authorities because their partnership structures were not allowed by the Greek bar associations. Earlier this year, Norton Rose was granted permission to register its Athens and Piraeus offices as branch, rather than associated, offices.
Norton Rose also got the nod for the flagship float because it was one of the few firms with an office in Greece able to offer US advice. London-based US securities partner Tom Vita led the team with Athens-based corporate finance partner Elena Tsohou.
Vita said: “We got the deal because of our ability to do the US side and our corporate finance practice in Greece. We’re thrilled to have advised the Greek government and Opap on the company’s initial international offering in such difficult markets.”
Opap is the leading gaming company in Greece, holding the only concession to run six numerical lottery and sports betting games. The government sold around 19 per cent of Opap’s outstanding share capital. Five per cent was floated in a previous offering to local investors.
In this second tranche, shares were offered to Greek retail and institutional investors, employees of the company and international investors through a Regul-ation S/Rule 144A offering. Tsohou said: “The transaction also shows the strength of Norton Rose’s international network and the appeal to Greek clients of having international advisers in Athens.”
The deal was made more complicated by the involvement of privatisation certificates, the holders of which have a preferential right in the public offering. London-based partner Christian Parker advised in relation to the concurrent exchange offer made to the holders.
Vita said: “We had a good team of people. Everybody realised the deal was being done on a tight timetable and really threw themselves into it.” The deal began in May and between its start and finish there was a three-week review period with the Athens Stock Exchange and a three week roadshow. In essence, it was documented in around a month.
Alpha Finance, EFG Eurobank Ergasias and Schroder Salomon Smith Barney were joint global coordinators. They were advised by London-based Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom partner Richard Ely.