Oracle's Ellison eyes swoop for 02 arena owner AEG

US billionaire is targeting £6bn deal in company which has the former Dome

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The Independent Online

One of America's most notorious and controversial billionaires is in the running to purchase the company behind London's O2 arena in a possible £6bn deal.

Larry Ellison, the founder and chief executive of the United States software giant Oracle, is one of the bidders for Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns the concert hall as well as 100 other entertainment and sports venues across the globe.

AEG was put up for sale last month by owner Philip Anschutz, who bought what was then known as the Millennium Dome in 2002 from the British Government.

A prominent American Christian conservative, he gained particular attention in the UK in 2006 when it emerged he had entertained the then Deputy prime minister, John Prescott, at his ranch just as he was bidding to win super-casino licences.

Mr Prescott insisted there was no conflict of interest.

Mr Anschutz folded the Dome into AEG, which also has stakes in the Los Angeles Lakers NBA franchise and the LA Kings pro hockey team.

Bankers at Blackstone are handling the sale, with bids expected from a range of private-equity firms and sovereign wealth funds.

Mr Ellison is thought to be more interested in the sports arms than the O2, soon to host concerts by Jennifer Lopez and Lionel Richie.

Sometimes derided as the other software billionaire – he is said to dislike Bill Gates – he is known for his love of trophy assets, gigantic boats and daredevil adventures.

Mr Ellison's net worth is put at $41bn (£26bn) by Forbes, largely down to his 22 per cent stake in Oracle, which provides business software. That compares with the comparatively meagre $8bn fortune amassed by Mr Anschutz. Weeks ago, Mr Ellison bought the Hawaiian island of Lanai for a rumoured $500m, and has been open about his desire to acquire other trophy assets.

Last month it emerged that Mr Ellison had pledged 139 million Oracle shares, valued at $4.3bn, as "collateral to secure personal indebtedness".

He told CNBC that he secured the credit "just in case I go shopping and something catches my eye".

Analysts say Mr Ellison could easily afford the purchase, but note that he could face stiff opposition. Patrick Soon-Shiong, a biotech entrepreneur who is Los Angeles' richest man with an estimated $7.3bn, has declared his interest publicly in AEG.

Mr Ellison has spent more than $100m to win the prestigious America's Cup sailing race. He collects planes and cars, and owned a 454ft mega-yacht before selling it for $300m to David Geffen.

Mr Anschutz is said to be keen to shove the price as high as possible rather than secure a quick deal.

When tycoon went in hard on PeopleSoft

Mr Ellison is known for self-confidence rather than diplomacy.

When he launched a bid for rival PeopleSoft in 2004, staff at that company decided that Oracle stood for One Raging Asshole Called Larry Ellison.

Mr Ellison was open about his desire to buy the company so he could shut it down. The takeover battle led to Oracle acquiring the business in the biggest software merger in history. He paid 65 per cent more than he intended and relented on ditching PeopleSoft.