x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Liverpool owners wait on High Court ruling

Verdict today on whether they have power to fire board members who back sale.

LONDON // The battle for ownership of Liverpool intensified yesterday as the judge ruling in the High Court case in London said he will make his decision on whether the club's owners should be able to sell for an already agreed, but lower, price, this morning as a second bidder emerged to buy the club yesterday.

Tom Hicks and George Gillett, the American owners, are trying to block the club's sale after the board agreed a £300 million (Dh1.75 billion) deal with New England Sports Ventures (NESV), owner of the Boston Red Sox baseball franchise, against their will. Inside a packed court room, lawyers for the owners admitted they had breached their contracts with the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), the major creditor, when they tried to sack board members in a final bid to keep control of the club.

They said Hicks and Gillett were forced to do this because those board members had failed to consult them properly and to consider alternative offers for the club. The Americans' lawyers also argued in court that there were alternatives for RBS other than putting the club into administration. While events unfolded inside court, Peter Lim, a Singapore billionaire, made an increased cash bid of £320m for the club.

The case will also go a long way to determining whether the club goes into administration and faces a nine-point deduction. Hicks and Gillett had tried to dismiss two members of the board and replace them with their own people ahead of the NESV agreement in a bid to scupper the plan, which they said was not in the best interests of the club. RBS lawyers argued that Hicks and Gillett had shown "breath-taking arrogance" by trying to change the board and accused Hicks and Gillet of a "calculated breach of contract ... to frustrate the sale process". The bank, majority owned by the UK tax payer, is contesting the case against the owners because it had ruled that only Martin Broughton, the chairman, could make changes to the board. That was required by RBS to prevent the two Americans from blocking any sale.

The case is examining whether Broughton had the authority to agree the deal with NESV. The situation was further complicated when Lim increased his bid for one of the world's most famous clubs. Lim said that he would make a further £40m available for new players. If the October 15 deadline for a refinancing of Liverpool's debt is missed, lawyers believe RBS could take control of the club and conduct the sale itself.

That could result in the holding company of the club briefly being put into administration, which would result in the points deduction under Premier League rules. Hicks and Gillett bought the Merseyside club in 2007 for £218.9m and have since burdened it with crippling debt. Many fans joined together to line The Strand in London in protest yesterday. * Agencies