Liverpool will not be sold to Dubai group, insists Hicks

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The Independent Online

The Arab investment group which has long had Liverpool in its sights was last night losing its race to take over the club from Tom Hicks and George Gillett before the Americans refinance the £350m debt they incurred buying it.

Contrary to reports at the weekend, Dubai International Capital has not made a formal offer for the club and a senior source said yesterday that it is now 90 per cent certain that the Americans will refinance the debt, drastically reducing the chances that DIC will have any interest in buying them out. DIC is understood to have proposed a sum of around £300m to Hicks and Gillett, but that has been rejected and there is increasing frustration in Dubai over Hicks' increasingly outlandish demands. He is understood to have brought demands unrelated to Anfield into the equation and, although DIC will seek discussions this week with Royal Bank of Scotland, which, with the US bank, Wachovia, is refinancing the Americans' loan, the new debt package is likely to go ahead within the next few days.

"[DIC] are getting exasperated," said the source. "They want to be involved, they want to put money into the club but they are not going to line the pockets of the [current] owners. They are not desperate and they don't see Liverpool as a trophy asset." Sources in Dubai also categorically denied any formal offer had been made to the Americans yesterday.

Last night, Hicks issued a statement insisting he had no intention of accepting an offer for his stake in the club. "I have not received any offer to purchase the club from the DIC or anyone else, much less accepted any such offer," he said.

"Nor do I have any intention of doing so. Whoever is behind this false report, the facts are that I and my family have always been, and remain, fully committed to co-owning the club; that no one in my family has ever indicated any intention or desire to sell our stake in the club; and that we expect and intend to be co-owners of the club, and to actively and enthusiastically support the club's manager, players and fans for many years to come."

One rumour still circulating is that DIC, the investment arm of the Dubai government, has found a way of meeting Hicks and Gillett's demands while not exceeding its own desired outlay. One major football financier suggested yesterday that DIC representatives would be in Liverpool this week to conclude that deal, which would include Liverpool's debt being taken on by the Dubai state through the issuing of sovereign bonds.

But sources in Liverpool categorically deny that any such deal is on the cards. Instead, a £350m refinancing arrangement – covering the £220m cost incurred in the Americans' takeover last year plus investment in the squad, interest payments and money needed to start work on Liverpool's new stadium – is now almost certain to be concluded, making DIC likely to "walk away". That is because DIC wants to conclude its own refinancing arrangements rather than take on the increased debt and because the resolution of the debt issue would give Hicks increased security at Liverpool, allowing him to sit back and see how the club develops.

DIC, the investment vehicle controlled by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, one of the world's richest men, has been consistently linked with Liverpool in recent months. It came close to buying the club a year ago and, though negotiations broke down, Hicks and Gillett's desire to put the new debt directly on to Liverpool's books, guaranteed against club assets rather than their own, makes DIC a far more attractive proposition to a club which does not want to be loaded up with debt. The uncertainty over refinancing seemed to have created an opportunity for DIC and it has been in daily contact with Anfield in recent weeks.

Persuading Gillett to sell might be one possibility, though it seems that DIC is not interested in his share alone and the best hope might have been that, if Gillett capitulated, then so would Hicks. But Gillett seems to have been persuaded against that. "[DIC] would prefer to have the [whole] club," said the source. The failure to conclude a deal will be a source of dismay to Liverpool, where the absence of any cash investment by the Americans has created a schism with the board which is trying to run the club on a day-to-day basis.

Though it is thought the debt may be set against Hicks and Gillett's own corporate structures there has been a growing schism between the board and the owners who, when they took over, said theirs would not be a "Glazer-style" takeover, with the club potentially imperilled by debt set against its assets.

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