Portsmouth 'hopeful' of new deal

Club propose paying off part of tax debt then clearing remaining money in stages

Portsmouth will today seek to reach an 11th-hour agreement with HM Revenue and Customs that would save the club from being forced into liquidation at the High Court tomorrow.

The South Coast club are "hopeful" they can negotiate a deal that will convince the tax office to postpone its winding-up order over unpaid debts of £7.5m. Portsmouth's lawyers are proposing to pay off between £2m and £3m of the debt immediately and then hand over the outstanding amount in staggered payments. A club source said agreement over when outstanding debt would be paid had been reached with the rest of the club's creditors.

Portsmouth's lawyers believe they can stop the club going into liquidation or administration by reaching a deal that would allow more time for the club's new owner Balram Chanrai to sell it on again. The Hong-Kong based businessman is interested in owning Portsmouth only as a short-term measure to ensure that he does not lose the £17m loan he made to the club in October.

Portsmouth's chief executive, Peter Storrie, yesterday said he was in talks with potential new owners. "Our priority is Wednesday's court date with the Revenue," Storrie said. "Our objective, now the new owner is in place, is to seek from the courts a stay of the winding-up order. We need time for a new buyer to come in and then we will be in a position to pay the Revenue.

"If the Revenue wind this club up, then they will get nothing, and that cannot be the right answer. We're in talks with potential new owners, which would be our fifth owner already this season. I've heard the joke about how we have had more owners than wins this season, but the media have been putting the knife in all season and no one is going to stop now."

Storrie was recently in Ireland trying to attract a buyer, and is said to have interest from America. There are also claims that a member of the Saudi royal family is in discussions. HRH Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf, who is Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the UK, is interested in becoming the club's fifth owner in seven months.

Many do not believe the High Court will simply put Portsmouth out of business tomorrow. The club are due another tranche of TV money later this season, and even if they are relegated would be due two years of parachute money, which works out at £25m. Club sources also do not expect Chainrai simply to sit and watch the club being brought to an end, and its assets redistributed to creditors. He might be content, however, to allow the club to fall into administration.

Portsmouth hope a precedent has been set by the case of Notts County when a judge allowed them 28 more days to pay tax debts of £700,000 after the club produced evidence of potential bidders.

On the pitch Portsmouth tonight face Sunderland hoping for their first Premier League win since November. They are seven points from safety following their 5-0 defeat at Manchester United on Saturday.

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