Thai premier scraps lottery bid to buy Liverpool

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The Independent Online

Thailand's prime minister has scrapped plans to use a state lottery to buy a stake in Liverpool.

Thailand's prime minister has scrapped plans to use a state lottery to buy a stake in Liverpool.

Thaksin Shinawatra is attempting to conclude a £60 million bid for a 30-per-cent stake in the Anfield club.

However, mounting opposition to the government's plans to use a one-off state lottery to raise the funds has forced a rethink.

"Taking money from the poor is not our aim," said Thaksin.

"When we found that it is wrong, I had to put a brake on it. We have to scrap the lottery project."

The plan had met intense opposition from critics, who said it would promote gambling and force the poor to part with hard-earned money.

A group of leading academics had called for the proposed investment to be declared illegal.

Human rights organisations had already expressed their concerns over the plans and questionable priorities of billionaire Thaksin.

A senior group of Thammasat University lawyers led by faculty dean Surapol Nitikraipoj claimed in a letter to the Bangkok Post that the move defied the Thai constitution.

They claimed the current constitution "did not permit the government to run any enterprise for profit" - and said its bid for the club was effectively profit-driven.

They warned any deal would constitute a clear break of Thai law and hit out at the government for attempting to finalise the arrangement by "questionable means".

After weeks of bargaining, Thailand's offer had reportedly been approved by the Premiership club's board and Thai negotiators said the two sides were undertaking "due diligence" checks of the club's financial integrity.

But today Thaksin cast doubts on whether the deal would materialise.

"At this moment, I am not certain that we can buy it or not," he said, refusing to elaborate.

"Our financial experts and the legal team are performing the (due diligence). But nothing is certain. If it is affordable to buy we will buy, if not we will not."

Thaksin had originally indicated that he would buy the Liverpool stake with his own money. But the government later said it would be owned by a new company to be set up under the government's Sports Authority of Thailand.

The company was to get its funds from a special one-time £165 million state lottery. Half the money would have gone to purchase the stake and the rest into prizes and administration charges.

Thaksin said the proposed £15 million first prize "has inspired greedy people and would make the poor struggle to buy the lottery".

On Monday, Thaksin's political mentor, Chamlong Srimuang, joined the critics, saying in an open letter that it would further "blind" gambling-crazy Thais and amount to "open, official support for gambling".

Thaksin said he respected Chamlong greatly, "so when he warned me that the lottery is a vice and a sin, I had to listen".

"I don't care about losing face. But when I found that it is time to backtrack, I have to do it," Thaksin said.

Yesterday, hundreds of Thais launched a petition against the lottery plan, saying if Shinawatra was so desperate to buy a soccer team he should spend his own money rather than asking ordinary Thais to fund his personal ambitions.

Besides the opposition to the lottery, critics say the purchase will bring neither economic benefits nor promote soccer in Thailand.

In England, some have questioned whether Thaksin should acquire a piece of the team because of his poor human rights record in the war against drugs last year when more than 2,200 people died - many allegedly at the hands of police.