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Italy's Berlusconi agrees sale of AC Milan stake to Thai businessman

Saturday, June 6, 2015 - 07:01
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Silvio Berlusconi has approved a deal to sell 48 per cent of soccer club AC Milan to a group led by Thai businessman Bee Taechaubol, a historic change for the team which the former Italian prime minister has owned since the 1980s.

[MILAN] Silvio Berlusconi has approved a deal to sell 48 per cent of soccer club AC Milan to a group led by Thai businessman Bee Taechaubol, a historic change for the team which the former Italian prime minister has owned since the 1980s.

Mr Taechaubol has eight weeks of exclusive negotiations to finalise the accord which aims to relaunch the AC Milan brand, especially in Asia, and boost its revenues, Berlusconi's holding company Fininvest said in a statement.

AC Milan, seven times European champions, has been a central part of Berlusconi's media and political empire for three decades. But it has lost some of its shine in recent years and has been unable to compete with richer European rivals. "Berlusconi, who will stay on as chairman, and Taechaubol will work together on a big and ambitious business and sports plan to bring Milan back to the top levels of Italian and international soccer," Fininvest said in a statement.

No financial details of the deal were disclosed but a person close to the matter said it valued the club at almost 1 billion euros (S$1.5 billion).

Some Italian media have also said that Mr Taechaubol, executive director of private equity group Thai Prime, will eventually take a majority stake.

The club won the most recent of its 18 Serie A championships in 2011, racked up debts of 250 million euros and made a loss of 91 million euros last year.

Mr Taechaubol flew to Milan early last month to discuss a deal. A source close to the matter said earlier on Friday Taechaubol had returned to Italy and had met the Italian media tycoon.

Mr Berlusconi, whose political fortunes have faded in recent years as rivals have fought to take over leadership of his centre-right party, has said that one family alone was not able to meet the challenge posed by the rising investments required to run a soccer club.

When the deal closes, Mr Taechaubol would join a series of foreign tycoons who have bought some of the most prestigious European soccer clubs in recent years. In Italy to a group of Indonesian investors bought Inter Milan in 2013, ending the long reign of the Moratti family over the team.

Since being forced from office as prime minister at the height of the eurozone crisis in 2011 and being convicted for tax fraud in 2013, Berlusconi has increasingly withdrawn from frontline politics.

The 78-year-old has taken a fresh interest in his business empire, where his five children hold senior positions, and recently he sold a minor stake in TV company Mediaset, another pillar of his long domination of Italian politics.

There has also been speculation he could sell Mediaset's pay TV operation, built around broadcast rights to Champions League soccer matches, as the global media industry consolidates.

REUTERS