Thai investors are linked to three more Premiership football clubs

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The Independent Online

The continuing melodrama over possible Thai ownership of a large chunk of Liverpool FC developed a few more tantalising plot lines yesterday as three other Premiership clubs were reported to be linked to Bangkok investment.

These moves - said to involve Everton, Manchester City and Fulham - come in the wake of speculation about Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's motives for pursuing a 30 per cent stake in Liverpool, which will bring him two board seats and full commercial rights in Asia. In a country that, last week alone, broadcast no fewer than 55 hours of English football, those rights could very lucrative.

The Liverpool deal, which will not be finalised for six weeks, is also an effective diversion from matters of more traditional concern to prime ministers. Tomorrow, eight ministers from Mr Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai ("Thai Loves Thai") party face a no-confidence vote in parliament over corruption allegations.

The expectation that ordinary Thai punters will buy lottery tickets to fund half the £63m purchase price of the club has dominated headlines for a fortnight. Critics say the billionaire PM's bid is an offbeat ploy to boost his popularity with youthful voters and couch potatoes in the run-up to an election in January and, abroad, the sports negotiations have highlighted Mr Thaksin's brutal drug-suppression campaign. This led last year to the uninvestigated deaths of some 2,500 smalltime speed dealers, many allegedly gunned down by motorcycle death squads of undercover policemen. Amnesty International excoriated the Thai leader for his "abhorrent attitude to criminal justice".

Steven Kelly, editor of Through the Wind and the Rain, a Liverpool fan magazine, wrote : "We should have distanced ourselves from this guy from day one ... [Mr Thaksin] doesn't look like the kind of character you should be doing business with."

Other fans disparaged the Thai premier for being able to name only four Liverpool players, and that with prodding from his aides.

Mr Thaksin , who gained 90 per cent approval in Thailand for his high-profile war against drugs, portrayed his football deal as a welcome diversion for Thailand's bored youth. He claimed Liverpool's popularity would encourage youth to "come out and play" instead of abusing drugs. "The performance of our football team is not good enough to be their inspiration. I want to leapfrog ... to inspire them," Mr Thaksin told reporters. He added: "Before my government came in you could buy drugs like chewing gum. It was that easy."

Foreign interest in English teams is nothing new. Besides the Egyptian entrepreneur, Mohamed al-Fayed, who owns part of Fulham, there is the Russian oil billionaire Roman Abramovich at Chelsea and the American Malcolm Glazer, who owns a slice of Manchester United.