I've got nothing to hide, says ChainraiI've got nothing to hide, says Chainrai

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 March, 2010, 12:00am

After weeks of speculation and hearsay from the media in Britain, Portsmouth soccer club's Hong Kong owner Balram Chainrai wants to put it on the record once and for all - he has nothing to hide.

'I'm not a money lender, I'm a businessman. My involvement in Portsmouth is purely business. There's been absolute transparency all the way from my side,' he said.

Chainrai's company, Portpin, ended up taking over the 90 per cent shareholding in Portsmouth held by previous owner Ali al-Faraj, of Saudi Arabia, last month after the club had missed deadlines to repay money Chainrai was due and the loan ballooned to GBP17 million (HK$200 million). He reaffirmed that this was the only reason he took over the club.

'Anybody who is ready to give me the money I put into the club and lent to the club in good faith, I'm ready to take it and walk,' Chainrai said.

'They can step straight into my shoes and I'll be happy. I'm sick of these accusations. People can say that I'm asset-stripping or doing this or that, but it simply isn't true.'

Chainrai, 51, said he was hurt by accusations in the British media that he had an agenda and said his 'reputation had been tarnished'.

'In the beginning I was asked to help out financially by the previous owner. The consideration I was offered to help out was attractive as a business proposition, but things began to snowball very quickly,' he said. 'It was obvious things were going downhill fast and before I knew it I was in this situation [taking over the 90 per cent shareholding in Portsmouth].'

Last night Chainrai watched his side play in an FA Cup quarter-final against another Hong Kong-owned Premier League club, Carson Yeung Ka-sing's Birmingham City, at Portsmouth's Fratton Park stadium in a match billed as the 'Hong Kong derby'. Portsmouth won 2-0.

Hong Kong is very much Chainrai's home. He runs a successful consumer electronics group in the city, though he also has British interests, including a property investment firm, Hornington Investments.

In Hong Kong he has a staff of 150 and is known by friends and associates as Balu rather than Balram. He went to King George V School, is a former member of the city's Indian Chamber of Commerce and a well known member of the Indian community; contrary to reports in some British media, he is not of Nepalese extraction.

'I was born and raised here. I'm a Hong Kong boy who speaks fluent Cantonese. This is my community,' he said. 'My 86-year-old father, P.G. Chainrai, came to Hong Kong in the 1920s and began our family business.'

Chainrai first got involved with the cash-strapped Premier League side in October after intermediaries persuaded him it would be a profitable business venture that would be completed in a matter of weeks - a loan that would buy time for 'billionaire' owner Faraj to get his finances in place to take over the club.

In business jargon this is called bridge financing, which is a method of financing used to maintain liquidity while waiting for an anticipated and reasonably expected inflow of cash. It was supposed to be a straightforward investment that would make a little profit in a short period of time, but he was eventually forced to take over the reins at Fratton Park.

'Business is all about profit. If I had known it was going to end up like this I would never have got involved,' he said. 'I've always lead a low-profile life and I want to go back to it.

'I'm not speaking to anyone about selling the club. That is all down to the club's administrators or the club's lawyers. I'm just sitting at home in Hong Kong running my business.'

For this reason Chainrai would not comment on who are the front runners to buy Portsmouth, but another person with knowledge of the negotiations ruled out one of the rumoured buyers, Victor Cattermole.

Cattermole's Hong Kong-based investment company Endeavor Plan was named as a prospective buyer, but the New Zealand Herald reported that Christchurch-born Cattermole has a string of failed companies behind him and that he operated investment schemes that Securities Commission New Zealand has warned investors to avoid on the grounds they are not legal.

'This Hong Kong-based company called Endeavor Plan? If you do some research into their background it's not a pretty sight,' the source said.

'But they were persistent, so when we asked them where we could discuss the matter further their spokesman in Hong Kong said he didn't have an office but we could meet in his father's house. All discussions ended there and then.'

Attempts to reach Cattermole for comment were unsuccessful.

The parties who had shown an interest in buying the club had yet to show they could fund it, hence they had not been named, the person with knowledge of negotiations said.

On Wednesday, a High Court judge ordered full disclosure of Chainrai's financial dealings with Portsmouth as part of a review of the club's move into administration.

The ruling, which means Portsmouth's lawyers will be back in London's High Court on March 15, came after the British tax authorities queried whether the administrator appointed to run the club would operate impartially in the eyes of the law with regard to the interests of all creditors. However, the person with knowledge of the negotiations said this was not a concern.

'This is nothing out of the ordinary. It's procedure and very common when a company goes into administration with a lot of money outstanding, and we're quite happy to oblige,' the person said.

'The court has given us two weeks to do it but we want to do it long before then to wipe out the shadow of doubt as soon as possible.'