Americans' stalling tactic strikes out in the High Court
Liverpool sale set to be rushed through today as judge renders Texan injunction obtained by Hicks and Gillett null and void
Friday 15 October 2010
Liverpool's directors were bracing themselves last night for the next unknown obstacle owner Tom Hicks and George Gillett might throw in the way of the club's sale, despite a second High Court victory which paved the way for a judge in the Americans' own back yard to open the door for a New England Sports Ventures (NESV) takeover as early as this afternoon.
In a hearing scheduled for 1pm BST today, a district court judge in Dallas is expected to render null and void an interim restraining order which he has granted, preventing the £300m sale. It is understood that Judge Jim Jordan, who granted that rushed order on Wednesday evening, was annoyed to be approached by Hicks and Gillett in the first place. They assured him his was the only court they could find, seven hours after a London High Court judge had effectively cleared the way for a sale on Wednesday, because London's Court of Appeal was closed. But lawyers in Texas expect the judge to throw out the order, in deference to the London High Court, where another judge yesterday demanded it be dissolved.
The High Court judge, Christopher Floyd, issued an injunction ordering the Americans to withdraw the Dallas order by 4pm BST today or be held in contempt of court. Judge Jordan's willingness to sit at 7am local time today suggests some sympathy with Liverpool's need to get the order withdrawn by early afternoon and proceed with a sale on the day the club's £200m loan facility expires.
Liverpool's non-executive chairman, Martin Broughton, is believed to feel that Hicks and Gillett's recent desperate actions to stave off a sale – trying to sack board members and yesterday issuing a contempt of court claim suggesting that Broughton and others might be imprisoned – mean that they will stop at nothing to prevent NESV's accession. Hicks and Gillett stand to lose £144m, by taking nothing from the sale.
But Broughton did not disguise some hope that the battle may be over and new owners in place for Sunday's critical derby with Everton at Goodison Park. "We are nearly there. We are still trying to get the restraining order overturned but I hope that will be some time tomorrow," he said last night, declaring that the NESV owner John W Henry remained "very committed".
NESV declared that they were already owners of the club, following two board meetings in the space of nine days which have approved the sale. NESV believe that if the Texas case can be struck out by 3pm today then the sale of Liverpool to them could go through by close of play. Today is the deadline by which £200m of loans taken out by Hicks and Gillett to buy the club must be repaid to the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS). The new Americans had initially been ready to make the £300m payment for the purchase of the club today.
Despite rumours to the contrary, it seems that Hicks has not managed to halt an NESV deal by selling his 50 per cent share of Liverpool to Mill Financial, who are understood already to have assumed Gillett's 50 per cent, giving them the chance to pay off RBS and take control. "We are the owners [of Liverpool]," NESV's barrister David Chivers told the High Court during yesterday's hearing. "The owners from beyond the grave are seeking to exercise with their dead hand a continuing grip on this company."
Judge Floyd said the legal action in Texas amounted to "unconscionable conduct on the part of Mr Hicks and Mr Gillett. This case has no real connection to Texas," he said. He criticised Hicks and Gillett for not telling the Texas court that the High Court in London had ruled against them earlier on Wednesday in their attempts to block the sale. "It's a deliberate omission not to mention that fact," Floyd said.
The reason for Broughton's concern was underlined by the legal wrangling which continued on both sides of the Atlantic as Hicks and Gillett's company filed a motion in Dallas asking that RBS, NESV and Liverpool's independent board members be held in contempt and jailed.
Anthony Grabiner, a lawyer representing the Liverpool board at yesterday's London hearing, called the Dallas court case "frankly preposterous". He said: "It reads like a novel. If it wasn't so serious, it would be a joke... It's a grotesque parody of the truth."
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