United fan to make fresh bid for Liverpool
AS if the sight of their club embroiled in a High Court battle to depose their reviled owners was not humiliation enough, Liverpool's fans now face the prospect of a takeover by Peter Lim, a Singaporean billionaire and Manchester United fan.
Lim, revealed yesterday as the second "excellent" bidder in the running to buy the club before Liverpool's board opted to accept a £300m offer from New England Sports Ventures (NESV), is ready to make an improved bid, though he is likely to come into play only should NESV pull out or the club be plunged into administration.
Regardless of the outcome of the Royal Bank of Scotland's (RBS) court case against Liverpool's current owners today, both of those scenarios remain plausible and Lim -- who believed he was in pole position to land the club until NESV improved its offer at the 11th hour -- has clearly not given up hope of gazumping his rivals. Should he do so, his background is likely to prove unpalatable to supporters of his new club.
In 2002, Lim's company, Rowsley, signed an agreement with FJ Benjamin -- another firm in which the former stock trader, who has a personal fortune of around £1bn, has invested -- to open a string of United-themed bars and clubs, the Reds Cafes, throughout the Far East.
The 57-year-old's substantial personal wealth, though, will provide some solace. Lim, the son of a fishmonger, shared his two-bed council flat with 11 other family members as a child, but excelled at Raffles Institution school and was educated in Perth, Australia, before emerging in the late 1980s as the 'King of the Remisiers', Singapore's stockbrokers.
It is thought he made as much as $100m in just six years.
It was in the 1990s, though, that he built his fortune, retiring to become a private investor and spending $10m on a 5pc stake in Wilmar, an Indonesian palm oil business, in 1991.
That investment is now believed to be worth around $700m, propelling Lim to seventh on Forbes' Singapore rich list.
He has interests in fashion, real estate, logistics and agri-tourism, as well as investments and expanding the Red Devils' brand across the globe, but he is famed in his homeland more for his divorce and his legal battle with Raffles, who he successfully sued for defamation, winning record damages on appeal.
He retains an intensely low profile, giving interviews only to highlight his considerable charitable donations.
Of more interest to Liverpool fans, though, will be what he considers to be good investment. "The trick is to think long-term," he said. "You buy a good stock, leave it there for 10 years. Come 10 years, this dollar can be many, many multiples."
Meanwhile, it emerged yesterday that Tom Hicks and George Gillett have technically been in default on their £237m loan to RBS since April, leaving the club's holding company vulnerable to being declared insolvent and tipped into administration at any time since.
Today's RBS action, scheduled to be heard before Mr Justice Floyd at the Royal Courts of Justice, is the first step in a two-stage process that Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton hopes will allow him to complete the sale to NESV.
At the heart of the issue is the constitution of the Liverpool board and whether Broughton's fellow non-owner directors have the right to agree to sell the club despite the objections of its majority shareholders.
Hicks and Gillett, who believe the NESV offer undervalues the club, tried to block the sale last week by attempting to sack non-owner directors Christian Purslow and Ian Ayre who, with Broughton, formed a majority in favour of the deal.
Broughton rejected the Americans' intervention and continued to an agreement with NESV, arguing that the co-owners were in breach of legally binding undertakings they gave to RBS as a condition of the extension of their financing agreement with the bank in April.
At that time, according to Broughton and RBS, the Americans agreed that the chairman had the power to appoint the board and that they would not stand in the way of any reasonable sale.
The strength of those undertakings will be tested today by RBS which, as the recipient of the undertakings, has to bring the case. Administration remains a possibility, but RBS's decision not to call in the co-owners' loans for several months emphasises their reluctance to push the club over the edge.
The repayment date for those loans remains Friday, however, and at some stage RBS may be forced to make a difficult decision they have thus far avoided. (© Daily Telegraph, London)