Liverpool sale headed for another court battle
LONDON (AP) -Liverpool's proposed sale to the owners of the Boston Red Sox was stymied Wednesday when its current American owners obtained an injunction in Texas blocking the deal - just as it was about to be approved.
Co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. announced the temporary restraining order by telephone to the three non-owning board members as they met in London to complete a 300-million-pound ($476 million) sale to New England Sports Ventures.
The Liverpool board responded by saying it had "resolved to complete the sale'' and called the injunction "unwarranted and damaging.'' It said it would move swiftly to have the injunction "removed.''
Hicks and Gillett called the attempted sale an "epic swindle'' that undervalues the storied Premier League club. They said they are suing the three British board members, the bank controlling the club's debt and NESV for $1.6 billion in damages. The Dallas court will hold a hearing on the case on Oct. 25, they said.
Hicks and Gillett, who say Liverpool should consider other potentially more lucrtive offers, turned to the Texas court after a High Court judge in London ruled earlier Wednesday against their previous attempts to block the sale.
John Henry, the financier who heads NESV, arrived at the hastily called board meeting Wednesday night hoping to quickly complete the sale after the ruling in the British court. However, more than four hours after the meeting began, Henry and the Liverpool board members had still not emerged from the law firm offices in central London.
If the sale is delayed, Liverpool could fail to meet Friday's deadline to repay its debts to the Royal Bank of Scotland. If Liverpool is put into financial administration, a form of bankruptcy protection, the club would be docked nine points by the Premier League.
Liverpool, an 18-time English league champion, is currently mired in the relegation zone after its worst start to a league season since 1953.
The Dallas suit was filed against Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton, managing director Christian Purslow, commercial director Ian Ayre, Royal Bank of Scotland and NESV. Action is also being taken against Liverpool finance director Philip Nash, who isn't on the board.
"The suit lays out the defendants' 'epic swindle' in which they conspired to devise and execute a scheme to sell LFC to NESV at a price they know to be hundreds of millions of dollars below true market value,'' said the statement issued by Hicks' and Gillett's public relations team.
The statement said the Liverpool board ignored other more lucrative offers and that "the defendants excluded the owners from meetings, discussions and communications regarding the potential sale to NESV and interfered with efforts by the owners to obtain financing for Liverpool FC.''
Two others bids emerged this week - one from Singapore businessman Peter Lim and another from an American hedge fund Mill Financial. Wednesday's statement said there was also a bid from FBR Capital Markets for between 375 and 400 million pounds ($595 million to $635 million).
Lim, who originally matched the Boston offer, made an improved bid Tuesday of 320 million pounds plus 40 million pounds for player transfers. He urged the board to consider all the offers and "not simply ratify a sale to NESV.''
The wrangling over the proposed takeover has gone on for months, and after the High Court ruling Wednesday both fans and Liverpool players were hoping it would finally be resolved.
Team captain Steven Gerrard hailed the High Court decision as "a fantastic result'' for the club.
"I know how frustrated the fans have been with what has been going on and I can understand their feelings,'' Gerrard told the club website. "But we've all suffered in this, especially the supporters, and now it's time for us all to pull together and help move the club forward.''
The High Court ruling was a victory for Broughton, who was hired to oversee the sale process in April. The judge, who heard five hours of court arguments in the case Tuesday, ruled that Hicks and Gillett have "no absolute right to veto a sale'' and said he didn't want to issue a ruling that could "damage'' the Boston bid.
"In these circumstances, it would be entirely wrong to grant the owners'' an injunction to stop the sale, he said.
Outside the court, dozens of Liverpool fans - many wearing team shirts and waving banners and club scarves - cheered, chanted slogans against Hicks and Gillett and serenaded the three board members with the Liverpool anthem "You'll Never Walk Alone.''
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