Another Hongkonger helms UK soccer club

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 February, 2010, 12:00am

Hong Kong businessman Balram Chainrai yesterday said he had no interest in owning struggling English Premier League soccer club Portsmouth and had only taken over the reins 'to remove the previous owners'.

Chainrai's company, Portpin, took over the 90 per cent shareholding in Portsmouth held by previous owner Ali al-Faraj after the club had allegedly missed deadlines to repay money Chainrai was due after he gave it a GBP17 million (HK$208 million) loan earlier this season.

It has been a year of upheaval for Portsmouth. Facing debts of about GBP60 million, the club faces a winding-up order in the High Court on Wednesday for unpaid taxes, and could be forced into administration. The club is bottom of the league and, up to last month, players had had their wages delayed four times. The club's official website was also temporarily closed down because of payment problems.

However, rather then celebrating the fact he had become the second Hong Kong businessman to control a Premier League club after Carson Yeung Ka-sing's takeover of Birmingham City, Chainrai played down his role.

He said he was unhappy at being referred to as the club's owner and stressed that although he had taken over a 90 per cent shareholding in the club, he had no interest in being its owner.

Chainrai said the only reason he had acted was to oust the old regime so that a new long-term owner could be found. He said his aim was merely to stabilise the club before selling it on to new owners and eventually recouping his investment.

'I have zero interest in buying Portsmouth and it's completely untrue that I am the new owner of the club,' he said. 'As far as I am concerned, I have just confiscated the shares of the previous owners ...

'It's nothing to do with controlling the club. I don't know anything about running a football club. I just love the game and that's why I've taken this action. We have exercised our right to take control of the shares, and to remove the previous owners.'

Alexandre 'Sacha' Gaydamak and Sulaiman al-Fahim had been in control of the stricken south coast club earlier this season.

Chainrai effectively saved the club from administration in October by providing Faraj with a GBP17 million loan to settle unpaid tax bills. Those loans were reportedly secured against the stadium, the club's future television revenue and Faraj's 90 per cent share. However, Chainrai ran out of patience after Portsmouth's failure to make repayments on the financing, despite continually extending the deadlines. He then instructed his lawyers to take action immediately. Under the terms of the loan, Faraj's 90 per cent shareholding in Portsmouth was frozen and passes to Chainrai.

Chainrai denied that recovering the money he had loaned was the reason why he had been forced to act.

'It's all about protecting the club's interests ... It's about finding someone who ... has the club's best interests at heart.'

He stressed that all he wanted now was to try to find someone who would like to invest in and take over the running of the club. He said Portsmouth's board would be very happy to speak to potential buyers.

'Believe me, someone will come in and buy this club. This is Premier League football we are talking about. We are eagerly looking for an investor to come in and take over,' Chainrai said. 'I don't have a time frame to find a prospective buyer. I would like to have one here today if I could, but we'll just have to wait.'

Chainrai runs a successful consumer electronics group in Hong Kong and has British interests, including a property investment firm, Hornington Investments.