The man entrusted with selling Birmingham City, the English soccer side owned by troubled Hong Kong businessman Carson Yeung Ka-sing, has accused the leader of the Italian consortium looking to buy the club of running a media campaign so that he can "get it on the cheap".
Peter Pannu is the club's acting chairman and chief of parent company Birmingham International Holdings (BIH). In September, a reported bid of £12 million (HK$148 million) by an Italian consortium led by Gianni Paladini, the former chairman of English Premier League club Queen's Park Rangers, was rejected by Pannu and the Birmingham board.
But earlier this month Pannu received a second, improved bid from the Italians of £30 million to take over the the club that plays in the Championship, England's second tier. Paladini told the British media that the sale was a done deal. But this is far from the truth.
"I support freedom of speech and he [Paladini] can say what he likes in the press, but if anyone wants to buy our club they better prove they've got the money to do it before they talk to the British media," Pannu said. "There's been a complete misrepresentation that he's closing in on a purchase and it's totally without foundation."
The Italian told the British press last week that he wanted to get a deal done very soon because he didn't want the club to lose any players in the January transfer window. "I am hopeful that we can get something agreed within the next 10 days. We are keen to get it all sorted by the end of next week," Paladini said.
Pannu, a lawyer and former Hong Kong policeman, has been on the lookout for a new investor to buy the club, but said he'd had enough of Paladini's "antics".
"I have instructed the club to send out a statement on our website to categorically deny all this," he said. "We need to put a stop to this nonsense. He's just trying to get the club on the cheap. If people don't have the money, they should just shut up."
Pannu said that when a legitimate offer was made, the club would make an official announcement immediately, but not before.
The cash-strapped club's troubles were compounded when Yeung was arrested in June last year on five counts of money laundering involving HK$723 million.
In September last year, the club was thrown a lifeline with a loan of up to HK$80 million from Yang Yuezhou, who was then deputy chairman of BIH.
But this has not been enough to guarantee the club's financial security. Yeung's assets have been frozen, he was ordered to give up his house in Barker Road on The Peak, after allegedly defaulting on the mortgage, and has been barred from leaving Hong Kong.
In June, British newspapers reported that Yang had also quit as a BIH director and that shares in the company had been suspended by the Hong Kong stock exchange.