Thailand's government may fund Anfield deal

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The Independent Football

After Thailand's deep-pocketed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra met Rick Parry, the Liverpool chief executive, to discuss buying a 30 per cent stake in the club, fans here are boasting that the Premiership side will be considered a Thai national resource by the end of the week.

After Thailand's deep-pocketed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra met Rick Parry, the Liverpool chief executive, to discuss buying a 30 per cent stake in the club, fans here are boasting that the Premiership side will be considered a Thai national resource by the end of the week.

News of the pending deal was splashed on front pages of local newspapers. Political opponents were already grousing against the impropriety of the telecommunications tycoon grandstanding his latest private investment at Government House. But then came a suprise: government funds may be tapped to make up part of the £60m purchase price.

"It is not the Thai prime minister's personal deal, it is Thailand's deal," Jakrapob Penkair, the spokesman for the billionaire Thai prime minister, told the Independent. "Money is no problem. But funds are not necessarily coming from the taxpayers' money. We are still putting together the deal and we are looking at the ways and means of financing. It will take a couple of days."

By yesterday evening, however, one government source reported, that instead of using money from state coffers Thaksin is now considering a special public lottery to raise the funds. Otherwise, he might be vulnerable to political critics.

The proposal to use public funds to buy a football club comes as the government expects to balance its 1.17 trillion baht (£17.8 billion) budget this year for the first time since the 1997 Asian financial crisis. It also comes at a time when Thaksin is facing criticism for selling state companies.

Employee protests forced the government to scrap an initial share offering for the nation's biggest power utility in March, for example, and yesterday politicians were asking awkward questions.

"The public would like to know in whose interest is all this being done," said Akrapol Sorasuchart, the deputy secretary general of the opposition Democrat Party. "Many of the football clubs in England are in financial trouble. To put public money in such ventures is risky. What kind of returns are you expecting?"

There were also concerns from the game's regional body. "I'm not sure about the wisdom of committing the Thai government to a business venture in football," said Peter Velappan, the general secretary of the Asian Football Confederation. Some financial experts could see good things, however.

"When people watch Liverpool play on TV they will feel like they are rooting for Thailand,"said Mark Matthews, head of Thai equity sales at CLSA Ltd, the Asian equity unit of the French company Crédit Lyonnais SA. "And if that in turn boosts confidence and consumption, well there you go."

Thaksin began his search for an English club last year. His motive, he says, was to provide new opportunities to Thai players and enable the national side to compete in the World Cup. His first choice was a stake in Fulham, until his friend, the Harrods owner Mohamed Al Fayed, made it clear in February that the club was not on the market.

But Thaksin's quest may also be timed to diffuse a crisis in public confidence. His government faces increased heat for its human rights abuses after an outbreak of violence in the south that left 107 suspected Muslim separatists dead. The prime minister's approval rating dipped this week to 58.8 per cent with elections in January.

"Nearly half of our population has nothing to eat. If the government uses public funds to buy a foreign soccer club, we can rest assured that people would join in cursing it", read the leader in The Daily News, a Thai language paper. A poll published yesterday indicated that only 13 per cent of respondents favoured using public money for the purchase.

Thaksin dismissed the political opposition's concerns about the structure of his deal.

"Thailand will buy it [the stake] first and then we'll discuss later whether the money will come from - the people, or from the government or the private sector," he said yesterday.

Thais have become fixated on European football, mainly because of illicit gambling syndicates that bet on English Premiership games. The merchandising rights alone are expected to bring in big profits.

A timeline of the history of the Anfield team since 1892 was featured in the English daily, the Nation yesterday with Thaksin keeping details of the deal close to his chest, only divulging that his favourite player is Michael Owen.

Boonchai Mongkolratankorn, president of the local Liverpool fan club, said: "The prime minister should not have anything to do with management, but I think he wants a say in buying and selling players."

The consortium of potential Thai investors is believed to include Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, a Thai liquor baron, whose company Chang Beverages is locked in a $2 billion lawsuit with Carlsberg, which sponsors Liverpool team shirts.

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