Thursday, February 3, 2011

Liverpool ownership battle in court

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Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton and Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim Photo: AFP

The battle for ownership of Premier League side Liverpool moved to London's High Court Tuesday as the unpopular American owners fought to block the sale of one of the world's most famous clubs.

The case, which is being watched intensely by Liverpool fans who want get rid of the current owners, will also go a long way to determining whether the club will go into administration and face a nine-point deduction.

Local Liverpool newspapers have said that hundreds of fans will line the Strand in London outside the court to make their feelings known.

Tom Hicks and George Gillett are trying to block the club's sale after the board agreed a $478 million deal with the Boston Red Sox owner, New England Sports Ventures (NESV), against their will.

The waters surrounding the club muddied further Tuesday with a spokesperson for Singapore billionaire Peter Lim confirming he was prepared to make an improved offer after his earlier bid of similar size to the one by NESV was rejected.

Hicks and Gillett had tried to dismiss two members of the board and replace them with their own people ahead of the agreement in a bid to scupper the plan. They have since argued that the board was not acting in the best interests of the club when it agreed the sale and have said they will do everything to fight it.

The case will examine whether chairman Martin Broughton had the authority to agree the deal.

According to the court's website, lead Liverpool creditor the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) will contest the case against the owners because Broughton believed that RBS had undertakings from the pair that only the chairman could make changes to the board.

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

The subject of how the board handled previous refinancing proposals by the owners may also come up, as Liverpool now have little time before an October-16 deadline for a refinancing of their debt which could have a greater impact on the club.

If the deadline is missed, lawyers believe RBS could take control of the club and conduct the sale itself.

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

Hicks and Gillett bought the Merseyside club in February 2007 for 218.9 million pounds and have been increasingly unpopular with fans for burdening it with debt, leaving little money for transfers.

Fans have held boisterous protests calling for their 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.


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