By Nick Harris
2 August 2010
A reported approach by a Chinese businessman, Jian-hua ‘Kenny’ Huang, to buy Liverpool is shrouded in confusion as sources in China and America have told sportingintelligence that he does not have the money to buy the club, that he declined to sign a confidentiality clause requested of all interested parties, and that “it is simply not plausible” that he can effectively strike a deal with RBS bank in order to take control.
Some reports have claimed that Huang is a billionaire and that he owns a 15 per cent stake in the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA basketball franchise.
In fact he is not a billionaire, and has never owned any shares in the Cavaliers, and there are no plans for him to own any in the future.
One source in China says: “Kenny has no capability of buying Liverpool.”
A different Chinese businessman, Albert Hung, made an offer to buy a stake in the Cavaliers more than a year ago, but even that deal hasn’t gone through.
“Kenny was never the main investor, nor in fact did he ever have any personal financial involvement in such a deal at all,” one source says.
Huang has a commercial connection with the Cavaliers as the middleman who introduced the Cavs to a beer company to do a sponsorship deal, but he has never owned any stake in any major sports franchise.
Huang owns a company in Hong Kong, QSL Sports Limited, which describes itself as a “sports investment company” but its simple website, which hasn’t been updated in several months, ceased working today, with users given the message: “The server is temporarily unable to service your request due to the site owner reaching his/her bandwidth limit.”
QSL Sports Limited’s main interests to date have been in promoting China’s second-tier semi-professional basketball league (the NBL), and in promoting a new Chinese youth league in baseball (CYBL); baseball is still a fledgling sport in the country.
Until May this year, QSL’s co-founder and primary financial backer was a bona fide billionaire businessman, Adrian Cheng, whose family have been ranked by Forbes as the 112th richest family in the world, worth $7.7bn.
But Cheng and Huang parted company two months ago and a QSL statement at the time said: “QSL co-founder Mr. Adrian Cheng will no longer be involved in QSL’s businesses and development and its related charitable foundations. QSL will now be 100 per cent owned by Mr. Kenny Huang.”
Skeptical sources in China claim that Huang only came to prominence as a front man for an unnamed wealthy Hong Kong family within the past couple of years and that he no longer has that association.
Sources in London with an understanding of what Kenny Huang apparently hopes to achieve at Liverpool say he has offered to effectively buy Liverpool’s debt of £237m from RBS, cutting out any involvement in a formal bidding process being handled by Barclays Capital under the direction of Liverpool’s chairman Martin Broughton.
Yet even those close to Huang cannot explain how buying the debt from RBS would definitely hand him or his backers control of the club. One RBS source described as “absolute bollocks” the idea that RBS would unilaterally sell Liverpool’s debt to Huang or had been involved in advanced talks to do so.
The club’s American owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, owe RBS £237m as a result of what was effectively their leveraged buyout, and the pair have also subsequently leant Liverpool another £144m via a Cayman Islands branch of their Liverpool investment vehicle, according to accounts for the financial year ending summer 2009.
It has been claimed that Huang has the backing of an unnamed Asian sovereign wealth fund, which if true could put billions at his disposal. The operative words are “if true”.
If an Asian sovereign wealth fund wanted to buy Liverpool, why would it not go via conventional channels, namely BarCap and Broughton?
Why would it use Huang as a front man, when he has no previous history of sports deals on the scale of a Premier League football club?
Why would it let him effectively manage its funds?
These are all questions that may or may not be answered in the coming weeks.
Liverpool insiders at the highest level insist there are multiple interested parties involved in talks about buying the club and that a preferred bidder should emerge in due course, perhaps within a few weeks.
Due diligence on any bidder, and their ability to take to club forward, specifically in funding a new 60,000-plus seat stadium that could cost up to £400m “is of the utmost importance, now more than ever” one source said.
“There is formal process and BarCap runs it,” said another source. “You cannot simply go to RBS or Wachovia or Bank of America and try to do a unilateral deal because it won’t work and it won’t stack up.
“Mr Huang did not want to sign a confidentiality agreement and you have to ask why.”
A source who knows Huang well said: “Kenny is good at making deals, as in facilitating deals for other people. He would certainly be capable of bringing people together. But Kenny is also very, very good at promoting Kenny.”
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