Confusion surrounds Kenny Huang and his interest in buying Liverpool after claims about his links to the Chinese government were met with an apparent denial which was then subsequently dismissed.
Reports suggested Huang is fronting a bid backed by China Investment Corporation (CIC), the country’s sovereign wealth fund which manages a £188bn (€226bn) portfolio.
Claims that CIC has sold £351m (€422m) worth of shares in the global financial services firm Morgan Stanley, of which it acquired a 9.9% stake three years ago, in the last couple of weeks – a figure equivalent to the debts currently held by Liverpool – appeared to add credence to the link.
But then suggestions emerged that Huang’s PR advisors had sent a statement to journalists in China refuting there was “any involvement of state-owned enterprises in his business dealings”.
However, when contacted by reporters, a spokeswoman for Hill and Knowlton Asia denied any statement had been released and said they had not issued any clarification which referred to the Chinese government.
And, according to the Financial Times, a spokesman for CIC said they had never heard of Huang or a plan to buy Liverpool.
CIC has numerous multi-million dollar global investments, including a stake in Canary Wharf, but there has been scepticism in the Far East about them buying into a Premier League club.
And it is a view held by sports finance expert Tom Cannon from Liverpool University.
“I have serious doubts about this deal,” he said. “It’s not the kind of investment I’d expect from the Chinese government. Frankly it doesn’t ring true that they are involved.
“Until the Chinese government come out and say ’We are interested’ I don’t believe it. It’s hard to see what’s in it for them.”
Huang’s major rival in the process appears to be Syrian businessman Yahya Kirdi, representing a group of investors from the Middle East and Canada.
His claim yesterday that a price had been agreed with co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett and a formal purchase agreement “is in the final stage of negotiation” was greeted with some suspicion, but Cannon feels it is the more likely of the two to succeed.
“Look at the Chinese government. They invest in traditional industry. Syrians are entrepreneurs who are maybe able to see a long-term return,” he told Sky Sports News.
“The dollar is so weak, that’s why I see the Middle East as most likely, that’s where there are resources. More likely than USA or China.”
Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton is hopeful of concluding a sale by the end of the month but the break up of Hicks’ sports empire has already begun in the United States.
His baseball franchise the Texas Rangers was auctioned off for £374m (€450m) in the early hours of this morning after Hicks’ ownership group defaulted on loans.
According to the team’s bankruptcy plan, creditors will only get about £47m (€56m) of the £330m (€397m) owed to them.
However, the judge in the case said lenders can go after Hicks’ other companies, although it is not sure how that will affect Liverpool, if at all.
The Texan is currently also looking to sell the Dallas Stars ice hockey team by the autumn as he moves out of sports ownership.