x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Judge rules against owners in Liverpool dispute

A High Court ruling has gone against Liverpool football club's owners, paving the way for the Reds to be sold to the owners of the Boston Red Sox.

Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton leaves the High Court in London yesterday.
Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton leaves the High Court in London yesterday.

LONDON // A British judge ruled against Liverpool's owners today in a decision that brings the debt-ridden Premier League club a step closer to being sold to the owners of the Boston Red Sox.

High Court Judge Christopher Floyd ruled that American co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr do not have the power to oust the boardroom rivals who sanctioned the sale. The board agreed last week, against the wishes of Hicks and Gillett, to sell the club to New England Sports Ventures for £300 million (Dh1.74bn).

The current owners claim the price undervalues the club and Liverpool should consider other offers. 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". He said the board should meet later today to approve the sale to the Boston group, headed by financier John Henry, ahead of Friday's deadline to repay the club's debts to the Royal Bank of Scotland.

It wasn't immediately clear whether Hicks and Gillett would appeal. Had the sale been blocked, Liverpool could have fallen into financial administration, a form of bankruptcy protection that would have incurred a nine-point penalty for the club from the Premier League. Liverpool, who won the last of its 18 English league titles in 1990, are off to their worst start to a season since 1953 and are mired in the relegation zone.

Lawyers for Hicks and Gillett told the court yesterday the duo were excluded from parts of the sale process and there were other more lucrative offers for the 18-time English champions that should be considered. Singapore businessman Peter Lim, whose first bid was turned down last week in favor of the Boston offer, announced Tuesday he was raising his offer to £320m, with an additional £40m to buy new players.

It was also revealed yesterday that American hedge fund Mill Financial has put in a bid that also pledges to wipe out the club's debts and would provide up to £100m to fund a new stadium. Mill Financial technically controls Gillett's 50 per cent stake after he defaulted on the loan used by Gillett to fund his part of the leveraged takeover in 2007. It is the owners' inability to repay around £285m of debt that led RBS to instigate a sale process in April and revamp the board to ensure the two no longer had a majority.