Liverpool takeover in balance amid court case

Last Updated: Wednesday, October 13, 2010 - 09:00

Liverpool will learn on Wednesday whether a proposed takeover by the owners of the Boston Red Sox can go ahead after a day of bitter courtroom clashes and the emergence of a higher bid from a Singapore billionaire.

A judge told a packed London court room on Tuesday he would rule on Wednesday morning whether owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett had the right to sack certain board members and thus block the sale of the indebted Premier League soccer club.

The American owners believe the sale, agreed by the board, for 300 million pounds ($477.2 million) to New England Sports Ventures (NESV), owner of the Boston Red Sox, undervalues England`s most successful soccer club and one of the world`s most famous sporting institutions.

The board agreed the sale last week, ahead of a looming deadline to repay debt which could result in the club going into administration and being docked points.

Inside a crammed court room filled with Liverpool fans in red shirts and some of the best paid barristers in the country, lawyers for the current owners admitted they had broken corporate rules last week when they tried to sack board members in a final bid to keep control of the club.

They said Hicks and Gillett had been forced to do this however because those same board members had failed to consult them properly and to consider alternative offers for the club.

The Americans` lawyers also argued there were alternatives for the club`s lender, the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), other than putting the club into administration, and said they should be given more time to thrash out a deal.

One possible offer could come from Singapore businessman Peter Lim, who said he was ready to make an increased cash bid for the club of 320 million pounds ($509.1 million).

Lim, who made a fortune through stockbroking and is Singapore`s eighth richest man, said in a statement he would make a further 40 million pounds available for new players.

The case, which is being watched intensely by Liverpool fans, some of whom were singing in protest outside the High Court, will also go a long way to determining whether the club goes into administration and faces a nine-point deduction.

"BREATHTAKING ARROGANCE"

In the battle to keep hold of the club and find a better deal, Hicks and Gillett had tried to dismiss two members of the board and replace them with their own people.

RBS lawyers argued that this showed "breathtaking arrogance", while the barrister for the club`s chairman accused the two of displaying some "slippery behaviour".

RBS, majority owned by the UK tax payer, is the major lender and is contesting the case because it had ruled that only chairman Martin Broughton could make changes to the board.

That was required by RBS to prevent the two Americans from blocking any sale.

The battle for ownership is further complicated by the Oct. 15 deadline for a refinancing of the debt, which if missed, could result in RBS taking control of the club and conducting the sale itself.

That could result in the holding company of the five-times European champions briefly being put into administration, which would result in the points deduction under Premier League rules.

The need to attend the historic court to settle the dispute follows boisterous protests by fans who have called for the owners` departure, blaming the club`s worst start to a season for more than half a century on a lack of new players and uncertainty over the future.

Hicks and Gillett, who bought the Merseyside club in 2007 for 218.9 million pounds ($348.2 million) and have since burdened it with debt, have seen the 18-times English champions pick up just six points from seven games this season.

While many fans joined together to line the Strand in London in protest on Tuesday, Justin Room, wearing a red Liverpool shirt and jeans, had made it into the packed court room.

"I`ve gone from five years ago in Istanbul watching us win the European Cup to being here, in a courtroom, almost bottom of the league and watching a judge decide our future," he told Reporters.

"They`ve just got to get out, the owners. They`re hated.

Other fans and members of the media stood in the corridors around the court, trying to get in and straining to hear the softly spoken judge.



First Published: Wednesday, October 13, 2010 - 09:00

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