'Clock is ticking' for Liverpool owners

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The Independent Online

Moves to sell Liverpool to one of Kuwait's richest families have been prompted by the need of the club's American owners to find a buyer by July.

That is when the £350m loans owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett have from when they bought the club two years ago must be refinanced.

They have been actively searching for a new owner for months, but it is understood have been made aware that the Royal Bank of Scotland will not refinance the original loan in the summer.

That loan was extended for six months at the beginning of the year, but a source close to the deal said: "Hicks has been told time is running out, the clock is ticking."

It has emerged that Hicks sanctioned talks this week with the Al-Kharafi family, initially over funding for the club's new stadium but then for a possible £500m takeover.

Gillett is thought to have been initially unaware of the talks, held with the club's commercial director Ian Ayre and financial director Phillip Nash.

Both are allies of Hicks in the on-going war between the club's owners.

The source added: "Hicks knows that RBS will not re-finance the original deal."

Gillett, who wanted to sell to Dubai international capital last season only to be thwarted by Hicks, is understood not to be planning to block this current move in retaliation.

The Americans know they must find a buyer or a new financial arrangement with another bank, or see RBS take control themselves.

In the current climate no other bank is likely to be interested, while RBS's involvement in control of Liverpool would also put the Government in a difficult decision considering they now own a majority stake.

The source added: "Hicks has been trying to sell his assets, and that is believed to include Texas Rangers, while Gillett has cut back on his NASCAR involvement.

"Liverpool was almost sold to the Al-Kharafi family in November, it only needed a signature, but they walked away. Hicks is believed to have been furious."

The Al-Kharafi family's wealth is estimated at £8billion.

The family are led by two brothers, Nasser and Jassem, but the planned purchase of Liverpool is likely to be a project overseen by one of their sons.

The family made their fortune from a variety of enterprises, including construction, banking, engineering, telecommunications and fast food.

Nasser is a highly successful businessman who runs MA Kharafi & Sons, which oversees the family's interests, while Jassem is an influential politician who has served for the past nine years as the speaker in the Kuwait National Assembly.

Hicks and Gillett bought the club for £218.9m in February 2007, but their regime has seen constant problems behind the scenes.

The new stadium development has been stopped and there is an on-going conflict between boss Rafael Benitez and chief executive Rick Parry, which has become public again during the negotiations over the manager's new contract.

Benitez wants more power over transfers, curtailing Parry's influence in that area.

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