Morgan's threat to Liverpool Thai deal

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The Independent Football

The battle for control of Liverpool intensified last night when Steve Morgan, a local property magnate and five per cent stakeholder, launched a bid to counter the attempt by Thailand's controversial prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, to buy 30 per cent of the club.

The battle for control of Liverpool intensified last night when Steve Morgan, a local property magnate and five per cent stakeholder, launched a bid to counter the attempt by Thailand's controversial prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, to buy 30 per cent of the club.

Morgan, who will outline his plans today, has written to Liverpool asking for talks over a £73m cash injection, most of which would come from a rights issue underwritten by him. Liverpool rejected a similar advance last month. Thaksin's ambitions have since edged closer to fruition.

A Thai government spokesman said yesterday that a £60m deal was "almost 100 per cent" complete. "Both sides are confident," Jakrapob Penkair said. "As far as we are concerned, we have finished the process."

None of the detail of the Thaksin-Liverpool proposal has been made public. It is not known what commitments Liverpool's chief executive, Rick Parry, has made in return for the cash, or what say in the running of the club, if any, he has agreed to cede. It is not even clear whether Thaksin himself will be investing in Liverpool or whether Thai taxpayers will be expected to foot the bill.

"The Thai Government is the one that negotiated the deal, not Thaksin, and most of the money will come from public funds," Jakrapob said. This contradicted a previous statement made by Thailand's Deputy Minister of Commerce, Pongsak Ruktapongpisal, who had said: "I want to assure you that the money comes from the prime minister himself, not from public funds."

Liverpool declined yesterday to discuss the matter.

Any deal involving Thaksin or the Thai government is sure to see protests from human rights activists and a vocal section of Liverpool's fans. Thaksin is already under scrutiny for his human rights record. Last month 107 mostly teenaged Muslim militants were gunned down in a Thai army ambush. Last year, some 2,500 methamphetamine dealers were killed in a three-month drugs clampdown by police. Thaksin has shrugged off United Nations complaints about extra-judicial killings.

An Amnesty International spokeswoman said that this displayed "the most abhorrent attitude to criminal justice possible". She added: "It is not for Amnesty to say what the club should do but this is an opportunity for the club's board and fans to learn more about human rights in Thailand and make their decision accordingly."

There is no way the English football authorities would or could stop Thaksin buying a stake in Liverpool. Neither the Football Association nor the Premier League has a "fit and proper person" test. Even if such a test existed, it would be unlikely to delve much beyond whether an investor had decent business credentials.

FA sources privately admit that it "would not be great for the image of the game" if an individual with human rights abuses on his CV took a stake in one of the country's most famous clubs. But the consensus in the corridors of power is that such issues are matters for governments, not the governing bodies of sports, to address.

Parry will fly back into a storm of negative local publicity over the potential deal with Thaksin. "[Liverpool] must be certain of the background of anyone they deal with or the club's famous name around the world could be sullied," the Liverpool Daily Post said in an editorial yesterday. "Thaksin's credentials as a Liverpool fan are at best untested and at worst non-existent."

This was an echo of the views of many of the hundreds of supporters who had contributed to the debate via the message boards and letters pages of the Post and other local papers.

"I do not want LFC associated with Thai blood money," wrote one correspondent. "Why not go after drug barons next?" asked another. "I hear Osama bin Laden is also a billionaire, why doesn't Mr Parry give him a visit also?"

"Get with the times!" said a third. "This is a global economy that we live in and the Asian markets have massive potential."

The Liverpool chairman, David Moores, who owns 51 per cent of the club, has long been in disagreement with Morgan over the club's future. Moores, who is a strong ally of the manager Gérard Houllier, wants to retain effective control, something he evidently believes will happen if Thaksin invests. Morgan is known to be more critical of Houllier and wants a debate about the merits of ground sharing with Everton if and when Liverpool move to a new Stanley Park home.

Those disagreements are the crux of the current dilemma. Liverpool need new money to move forward. They must either accept Thaksin's cash, knowing he is primarily using Liverpool as a popularity tool ahead of an election, or enter a probably confrontational relationship with Morgan, or look somewhere else altogether.

Morgan's proposal would see him buying £61m of new shares, with fans offered another £12m of shares. The income would be used for players and the new stadium. "This proposal would keep the club under the control of its true supporters and enable the ordinary fans to participate in the fortunes of the club for the first time," he said.

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