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Old 5th August 2010, 10:59 AM   #1 (permalink)
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The Chinese Government is the mystery backer behind a bid for Liverpool Football Club

Source: The Times

China’s overseas investment arm China Investment Corporation (CIC), which already owns a stake in Canary Wharf, is funding the bid fronted by the sports tycoon Kenny Huang for one of Britain’s biggest sporting names.

The debt-laden club is expected to change hands this month and last night the Chinese appeared to be in pole position to win a three-way takeover battle. The other bidders are a wealthy Kuwaiti family and an American private equity group.

Liverpool’s lender, the Royal Bank of Scotland, forced the club’s unpopular American owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, to put it up for sale in April. A number of potential foreign buyers have been circling, but until now the role of the Communist Government was unknown.

The acquisition would be just a tiny piece of China’s vast global investment plan. CIC was created in 2007 to invest billions of dollars for the benefit of the State. The country has been able to stockpile nearly $2 trillion of foreign currency reserves because it exports many more billions of pounds of goods and services than it imports. CIC has $332 billion to spend abroad.

The fund already has stakes in natural resources and energy companies in Asia, the US and Africa as part of China’s long-term strategy of securing its energy supplies. Liverpool would be its first football club and a high-profile entry into British cultural life.

Neither CIC nor Mr Huang was available for comment last night, but insiders said that CIC would end up owning the majority of the club if the consortium’s planned bid — which values Liverpool at between £300 million and £350 million — is successful.

China is not the first foreign country to covet English Premier League teams. Arsenal, Aston Villa, Birmingham, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City and Sunderland are all in foreign hands.

Manchester City, which is owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, a senior member of the Royal Family in Abu Dhabi, and Chelsea, owned by the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, were bought as trophy assets. The owners have poured in money without seeking a profit.

It is believed that the Chinese would expect to make money by building a bigger stadium in Merseyside and developing the club’s Asian fan base.

Liverpool already has a sponsorship deal with the bank Standard Chartered, which focuses on Asia. Presenting the bank’s half-year results yesterday, Peter Sands, its chief executive, said that its sponsorship of Liverpool was the most cost-effective way of getting Standard Chartered’s name on to television screens across Asia.

The sale is being run by Barcap, Barclays’ investment banking arm, and Martin Broughton, chairman of British Airways, who was brought in as temporary chairman of the club in April.

Insiders said that it was a three-way contest between the Chinese, Rhône Capital, a private equity group, and the billionare al-Kharafi family of Kuwait.

Any buyer must be cleared by the Premier League, which has held talks with the bidders. The main test is financial and it is unlikely that a bid would be blocked from the cash-rich Chinese.

Mr Huang reiterated his interest in Liverpool through his PR firm Hill & Knowlton yesterday but said that he had yet to make a formal binding bid.

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