Liverpool owners put buyers on red alert

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The Independent Online

Liverpool's co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett have attempted to start an auction for the Anfield club.

While it has emerged today that one of the world's richest dynasties are in talks over a possible £500m takeover, it is also clear that the Kuwaiti Al-Kharafi family are not interested in purchasing just a minority share, as has been suggested.

Hicks and Gillett have appointed rival banks to try to find potential buyers - Merrill Lynch are working for Hicks while Gillett has appointed Rothschilds.

There is already believed to be one European party that wants to discuss a deal, and if the two banks can find further suitors, the American co-owners may be able to force a sale in excess of £500m.

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 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 considered to be allies of Hicks in the on-going divorce between the club's owners.

A source close to the deal said: "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."

Now the deal has been resurrected.

The Al-Kharafi family's wealth is estimated at £8billion, and they had previously been involved in talks to buy Newcastle.

They 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.

And it has also emerged that Nasser claims to be a Liverpool fan.

He attended Liverpool College of Commerce before graduating with a Bachelor of the Arts degree in business administration.

Hicks and Gillett both now plan to attend the home game with Chelsea on February 1 when their objectives will be clearer, and they are also likely to try to revive contract negotiations with manager Rafael Benitez.

It is now accepted that Liverpool will have to be sold by July, with there being no chance of the Royal Bank of Scotland refinancing the co-owners' £350m loan taken out to buy the club two years ago.

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

They added: "Hicks knows that RBS will not refinance 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.

In the 50-50 partnership, both sides must agree on a deal to sell. Gillett could block it, but business requirements will take precedence.

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 take on such a new loan, while RBS's involvement in control of Liverpool would also put the Government in a difficult position considering they now own a majority stake.

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