Liverpool ownership fight heads for Texas court

LONDON (AFP) – Liverpool`s ownership battle went into injury time as Tom Hicks and George Gillett lost a High Court ruling in London but carried the fight to a Texas court room and a Friday hearing.

The ruling increases the likelihood that the 18-time English champions will be sold to New England Sports Ventures (NSEV), owners of US Major League Baseball`s Boston Red Sox, but the legal fight is far from finished.

American businessmen Hicks and Gillett suffered a setback on Thursday when the London court ruled their attempt to use a US court to block the sale of the club to NESV was invalid.

Judge Christopher Floyd strongly condemned their actions of obtaining an injunction in a court in Texas on Wednesday, saying their conduct had been "unconscionable".

Floyd granted anti-suit injunctions in a bid to nullify decisions taken by Texas District Court judge Jim Jordan in Dallas, imposing a 1500GMT Friday deadline on Hicks and Gillett to withdraw their case in Texas.

Floyd stressed he had given a ruling in London on Wednesday that meant the English directors of Liverpool could agree a 300 million pound (480 million dollar) takeover by NESV.

But before Liverpool`s board could make any decision, Hicks and Gillett secured a temporary restraining order from Jordan, forcing more court hearings.

A hearing in Dallas later on Thursday saw NESV request the restraining order be lifted while Gillett and Hicks pushed for contempt of court findings against Liverpool directors and NESV.

Jordan booked a hearing for 7 a.m. on Friday in Dallas, only three hours before the London court deadline, to consider the matter.

David Chivers, a lawyer for NESV, told the High Court that his clients already considered themselves the new owners of Liverpool.

NESV asked in London and Dallas for a quick resolution of the matter so money can be transferred from the United States to finalise the deal.

Time is pressing because Friday is the deadline for the repayment of a 200-million-pound loan made to Hicks and Gillett by the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Chivers said that if the deal was not completed on Friday, then Hicks and Gillett would have succeeded in stopping the sale of Liverpool before repayment of the debt became due.

That could see the Premier League impose a nine-point penalty on Liverpool for financial issues, one that could doom them to relegation from the elite football level in England and potentially scuttle the deal.

Jordan had originally planned his hearing on the temporary restraining order for October 27 but moved the date forward due to the deadline issues involved.

Meanwhile, another potential buyer, Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim, withdrew his 320-million-pound offer.

Lim said the board appeared determined to sell to NESV "to the exclusion of all other parties, regardless of the merits of their bids".

"In these circumstances, I am not able to proceed with my intention to acquire the club," Lim added in a statement.

The basis of the American owners` legal moves is their belief that the club is being undersold. They value the club at 600 million pounds and would lose about 140 million pounds if NESV`s deal went ahead.

Lim said that while he was withdrawing his offer, he was monitoring events and was still prepared to make a fresh bid.

"If current events cause the circumstances to change, my interest in acquiring the club remains," he said.

Hicks and Gillett`s unhappy association with Liverpool has coincided with a slump in the club`s fortunes on the field, while they have failed to deliver on a promised new stadium.

Around 7,000 supporters demonstrated before the club suffered a shock home defeat to Blackpool this month, a humiliation which sent Liverpool into the relegation zone and confirmed their worst start to a league season for 57 years.

Bureau Report