Kuwaiti billionaires line up £500m bid for Liverpool

Al-Kharafi family in discussions to buy Anfield club from American owners
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Liverpool are engaged in covert talks with one of the wealthiest families in Kuwait, with a view to the sale of the club. The Al-Kharafi family has a collective wealth put at around £8bn, with the most significant member involved in the prospective purchase of Liverpool understood to be Rafed Al-Kharafi, nephew of patriarch Nasser, who was linked with the potential purchase of Newcastle United last year.

Though it had been thought that Liverpool's current American owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, who have been seeking a new owner for months now, may have settled on a figure of £350m – the total sum of the club's debt – it is understood that they may secure £500m for a sale from the Kuwaitis.

Two of Hicks' key allies at the club, finance director Philip Nash and commercial director Ian Ayre, have been in Kuwait this week, ostensibly seeking finance for the stalled development of the club's new stadium and though it is as yet unclear whether the two – very much in the Hicks camp – have yet had direct discussions with the Al-Kharafis, the events of the week point to a move towards a sale. One possibly outcome is that that the Al-Kharafis might buy out the 50 per cent share of Hicks' co-owner George Gillett, comfortably the less well off of the two owners and deeply frustrated by the current struggle to settle manager Rafael Benitez's contract issue.

The money the Al-Kharafis could bring – made from the family's construction, engineering and telecommunications businesses – is vitally needed, with Hicks and Gillett having conceded weeks ago that they do not have the capital to progress the new stadium project and Benitez still forced to sell players before he can buy.

The prospects of a sale were looking slim with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, now out of the picture. But there were rumours earlier this week that financier Amanda Staveley, who had brought al-Maktoum back to the negotiating table after their initial bid to buy Liverpool was dismissed in favour of the Americans in 2007, had become actively involved again in a prospective sale.

There are suggestions that Gillett has not been involved in the trip to Kuwait this week – and that he and Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry, an ally, have been kept out of the tentative discussions. But Gillett is the more likely to sell – and the Kuwaitis becoming minority shareholders is a possibility. Though Liverpool's current £350m bank facility was extended for six months earlier this year, there are doubts as to whether it will continue beyond then – with the two banks, Royal Bank of Scotland and Wachovia, both severely by the global financial crisis.

A £500m deal, to include taking on the club's debt, was all but agreed by one mystery buyer in the autumn but with a deal seemingly minutes away from signing, it went up in smoke for reasons which have never become clear. It now appears that the prospective buyers on that occasion were the Al Kharafis.