By Nick Harris
11 October 2010
The search for the identity of the Asian bidder who pushed New England Sports Ventures close in the race to seal a deal to buy Liverpool ended with Robert Peston’s report on the BBC earlier today.
Peston’s scoop named him as Peter Lim, a Singapore businessman with a fortune Forbes Asia estimate at £1bn, who believed he was the front-runner for Liverpool until just before the club announced a £300m deal with NESV.
The NESV deal is conditional on the outcome of High Court action by RBS and / or Liverpool against the club’s current owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett.
The emergence of Lim’s identity and his interest – confirmed by all sides as “serious” and “credible” – is significant because it finally confirms multiple bidders for an asset that really deserved to have been more hotly contested in the first place.
Lim’s interest in English football is reportedly based on the fact he owns several Manchester United themed bars across Asia; 14 of them, to be precise, according to a spokesman, although they are not official United bars.
Lim first became involved in United-themed bars and stores in 1992 through a joint venture with FJ Benjamin. The latter pulled out of the sector when it didn’t work.
Beyond that, Lim’s tangible interest in any sport has been limited to a one-off donation (albeit massive, $7m) earlier this year to the Singapore Olympic Foundation (SOF) to fund upcoming athletes.
Sportingintelligence has been told this evening that Lim would be interested in having a chance to increase his offer for Liverpool, and that he was “surprised and disappointed” that he wasn’t offered the chance to outbid NESV. He accepts, however, “that if it’s not possible, then it’s not possible”, and understands that NESV has a legal agreement in place to buy the club if the court action goes positively for RBS.
NESV queered the pitch slightly by briefing – or allowing briefing on their behalf – that they could walk away if Liverpool went into administration. This created a public perception that they are not as committed as they might have seemed originally. This wavering has allowed room for Lim to re-enter the fray, if only in PR terms.
Sportingintelligence has further established:
- Lim opened talks with Liverpool as late as 22 September.
- Also know as Peter Lim Eng Hock, the basis of his fortune was agribusiness, property and latterly retail, with one early successful investment in Wilmar putting him on the road to riches.
- Lim was nicknamed “King of the Remisiers” for his reputation as a consistent profit-making stockbroker.
- Now 57, he retired from his hugely lucrative stockbroking work in the mid-90s when he was going through a divorce in which he sought custody of his children, then four and two. His daughter is now 18 and his son is 16.
- The divorce proceedings, from his ex-wife Madam Venus Teo Geok Fong, produced pages of gossipy details for Singapore’s newspapers for days on end in the 1990s.
- The divorce clearly had a major ongoing impact on his life and outlook. In an interview as recently as 2007, Lim said: “Money is a funny thing. When you don’t have it, you want it. But when you have it, you have a lot of problems. I believe that if I’d had no money, I wouldn’t have had my divorce. Things wouldn’t be good, but it wouldn’t end up in a divorce.”
- Lim has also said: “The money part of me – I just want to get away from it because I think that part of my life has given me a lot of trouble.”
- Lim’s philanthropy stretches beyond the SOF. Earlier this year he won the biggest libel payout in Singaporean history (details here), and he doubled the Sing$220,000 award he received and donated it to educational charity.
In terms of track record in sport, NESV and John W Henry, not least with their work at the Boston Red Sox since 2002 (click here for a Boston sports editor’s view, and here for a wider profile) are clearly much more accomplished in what they’ve achieved in sports ownership. Lim is an intriguing back-up if the week ahead takes as many more twists and turns as one might expect in this saga.