By Nick Harris
24 August 2010
The credibility of Liverpool’s would-be saviour Kenny Huang is thrown into further doubt today with revelations that he has a history of making claims about his background and business interests that swing between exaggeration and falsehood.
Huang has been hailed as Liverpool’s would-be saviour in some quarters since early August, but withdrew from the bidding process without explanation on Friday.
Sources say he pulled out after failing to produce evidence of funds, and failing to identify his backers. This development came amid ongoing but unsubstantiated claims that he has the backing of China’s $332bn CIC sovereign wealth fund, and that he may re-enter the fray.
Yet Huang’s background suggests that any grandiose claims about him, or by him, should be scrutinised carefully rather than taken at face value.
A three-week investigation by sportingintelligence has unearthed disturbing evidence that Huang has fabricated information about his studies at prestigious American universities, has claimed to be in a position of power at one of China’s biggest, richest banks (which the bank denies), and, as we previously revealed, has personally claimed to be the head of a group that owned a 15 per cent stake in an NBA basketball franchise, which was never true.
There are myriad claims that don’t stand up to scrutiny, and sportingintelligence will detail them today. Those mentioned in the previous paragraph are among the most serious because Huang made the claims himself under oath in January this year, in a federal court in Miami, during a civil trial in which he prevailed (and was awarded costs of more than $300,000) – after convincing a jury of his innocence.
Huang’s bid for Liverpool, and its credibility or otherwise, is important for several reasons.
Liverpool are historically one of England’s most prized football assets, and desperately need new owners and new finance to take them forward. As things stand, their fans remain in the dark about when or if that will happen.
Huang’s “credibility” was established to the extent that reports of a potential Huang-CIC-LFC deal even reached the front pages as well as the back pages.
This in turn led to serious analysis and interpretation by economists and geo-political observers in respectable publications about the role of “new China” in the wider world.
And if CIC, with Huang as the frontman, had bid or ever do bid for Liverpool, as part of a new spurt of international Chinese cultural expansion, it would be an enormous story, in sporting, economic and political terms. That’s why sportingintelligence started to look at it in such depth.
But was it actually true? Is it? And if not, how did so many people come to believe it?
It has been difficult to know for sure what is true about Huang’s bid, not least because those speaking on his behalf (latterly, officially, the London and Hong Kong offices of the PR firm, Hill & Knowlton, with others briefing in the shadows) have been unable or unwilling to respond to some of the simplest questions about his background.
Hence the importance of an official trial transcript (publicly available), where Huang, in his own words and under oath, makes claims about his own background.
To stress: he won the case in question in a jury hearing. He has also won other legal actions against him, pending appeal(s); and his Florida lawyer says there is only one outstanding judgement against him, surrounding unpaid debts of $788,300.54, plus interest, dating back to 1998. Huang is appealing that.
But the testimony in the January case about his background is so important because it is a rare (perhaps sole) example of Huang making personal statements that have been officially recorded and cannot be claimed as out of context or misquotes.
In his testimony (and the relevant parts of the transcript are screen-grabbed at the link here):
- CLAIM Huang said, in the present tense, that he was the leader of a group that owned 15 per cent of the NBA basketball team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. That stake, if true, would have been worth around $70m. Huang’s direct quote is: “I am the leader of the group that has 15 per cent of the ownership.” Asked to clarify that he leads an investment group that owns 15 per cent of the Cavs, he replies: “Correct.”
- DENIAL A spokesman at the NBA’s head office in New York has issued sportingintelligence with a statement saying: “Mr. Huang has never had any ownership interest in the Cleveland Cavaliers or any other NBA team.”
- CLAIM Huang said, while talking about his business interests: “I’m sitting on the board of Bank of Communications, assets management, which is the fourth largest bank in China.” The bank is indeed one of China’s biggest, with almost 70,000 employees and revenues in the billions. A Hill & Knowlton spokesman backed up Huang’s claim of a role on an assets board.
- DENIAL Eric Pan, a deputy senior manager at the Bank of Communications’ HQ in Shanghai, has issued sportingintelligence with a statement saying: “I would like to confirm that Mr. Huang does NOT have any position at our bank, nor has he ever held any position at our bank or at the Board of our bank.”
- CLAIM Huang said he worked at the New York Stock Exchange “starting the end of 87”. This would coincide with the end of the only period of his US education that has yet been verified: just four months at Columbia University from September to December 1987, as documented below by the official body in the USA that provides such data.
- CLAIM Huang adds in his testimony: “The New York Stock Exchange sent me to another school, New York University. When I was working there, I also attended the MBA program”. Separately, on a website of one of Huang’s other companies, Aspen (now effectively defunct), there is the claim that Kenny Huang “completed the MBA financial management courses at New York University, New York when he was working in Wall Street in the 80s.”
- DENIAL But Andrew Morton, an administrator at the NYU graduate records and registrations office (which holds information on all past and present MBA students), has told sportingintelligence there is no record of Kenny Huang, under either his Chinese or anglicised names, at NYU, either on the computer records, which date back to the early 1980s, nor within any hard-copy records of attendance or graduation at any time. “You’d be surprised how often people say they attended but actually didn’t,” Mr Morton said.
- CLAIM Huang says in his testimony he graduated from St John’s University in New York with a Master’s, majoring in Japanese. Sportingintelligence requested confirmation of this on 16 August from the relevant official body in the USA, and is awaiting a reply. If Huang did obtain a Master’s at Columbia, his timeline of education during his testimony is misleading. As and when confirmation is available, it will be updated here.
- 26 August update Sportingintelligence has received the search findings from studentclearinghouse.org and there is no record of a Kenneth Huang or Jianhua Huang (the name used when registered for four months at Columbia) studying at St John’s in the relevant period. (The nearest match is a Shih-Hsiung Huang, who gained a Master’s in East Asian Studies in January 1987. This would not fit the timeline of Huang’s testimony. And there are people called Shih-Hsiung Huang who can be found working in academia afterwards.)
- Elsewhere in the testimony, Huang also says he was voted the No1 philanthropist in China in 2009. This may be the case, but despite repeated requests, no spokesperson can point to any evidence of this. It may indeed exist, but we have been unable to locate it independently. But Huang is not listed anywhere on the 2009 Hurun Philanthropy list, which comprises the top 100 philanthropists in China by volume of donations in 2009.
- Huang claims he was “well known in China” at a period in 2002 when he was asked to travel there on behalf of a US-based company. But established figures in business and sporting circles in China insist Kenny Huang was not well known in China at that time. Huang says he was associated with the Houston Rockets and Yao Ming but he merits no mention in Yao’s autobiography, which details a long cast of people who helped Yao move from China to the USA in 2002.
Within the Chinese media, there is incredulity about Huang’s involvement in any Liverpool bid. Yan Qiang, also known by his anglicised name of John Yan, is the vice-president of Titan Sports, China’s most prominent and authoritative sports newspaper. Yan is a respected commentator on sport and sports business in China, and a regular contributor to the Chinese edition of the FT, as when writing here earlier this month on Huang and Liverpool.
“Kenny Huang only made his name and came to most people’s attention in China for the first time in 2009 when he was linked to the proposal for the Cavaliers,” Yan told sportingintelligence today. “Certainly I had never heard of him before then, and he has no track record in sport in China before then.
“Ever since the story broke that he wanted to purchase Liverpool, the reaction from China’s sports marketing industry has been the same: nobody trusted it. In most people’s view, he didn’t seem to be a serious businessman in this industry; and a lot of people don’t think that he knows much about sports business.
“His own claim as the minority owner of the NBA franchise Cleveland Cavaliers has long been denied; NBA China has been telling all media that Huang was not the buyer, and the negotiation was not serious enough.
“There is a serious question mark over his intention to buy LFC. Everyone knows that managing a professional football club, from a purely investment point of view, would not be sound business. The claims that CIC or another sovereign fund’s involvement are rootless. But at least Huang got huge publicity, because all Chinese media has been following up this news.”
Sportingintelligence has asked dozens of questions about Kenny Huang’s background and business dealings over the past two weeks to Kenny Huang, and / or to Hill & Knowlton on his behalf, to Huang’s Florida lawyer about the disputed claims in his testimony, and to Huang’s Chicago-based business partner, Marc Ganis. The vast majority remain unanswered.
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