BEIJING: Reports that China’s sovereign wealth fund was backing a potential bid to buy English football club Liverpool were received with scepticism by the country’s media yesterday.
While state media have not reported the story, other newspapers and websites reacted with disbelief to a report in The Times that China Investment Corp (CIC) was behind businessman Kenny Huang’s possible bid for the club.
“There is very little chance Huang is backed by state capital,” commentator Huang Jiaxin wrote in the Southern Metropolis Daily.
“Huang’s promises of keeping Fernando Torres, buying (World Player of the Year) Lionel Messi and building a new stadium is not that reliable.
“It sounds similar to (Shanghai Shenhua football club owner) Zhu Jun’s previous publicity about buying Liverpool and the English media’s fantasies about Chinese capital buying Manchester United.”
Chinese-born businessman Huang said on Wednesday he was interested in investing in the Premier League club but had not launched a formal bid.
Huang’s Hong Kong-based public relations representatives disavowed a news release that circulated in Chinese media circles on Thursday, which denied any connection between Huang’s business and state-owned enterprises.
CIC’s communications department declined to comment on the story again yesterday.
While there is nothing stopping CIC from putting money in a foreign football club, it would be a radical departure from the fund’s normal investment strategy.
CIC chairman Lou Jiwei has repeatedly said the fund was seeking financial returns and not interested in taking controlling stakes in companies in which it invested.
English media reports linking CIC’s recent sale of shares in Morgan Stanley to a move for Liverpool must also be treated with caution given the money the US$300bil fund it already has at its disposal.
CIC was set up in 2007 with the aim of seeking higher returns on part of the country’s huge stockpile of foreign exchange reserves.
A move to take over Liverpool would also be controversial politically as CIC’s mandate is to manage the money for the long-term benefit of the country – hence its major investments in energy and commodities.
“People’s money is being spent carelessly,” one poster wrote on Sina.com, China’s largest Internet portal, in reaction to the Liverpool story.
Others posting on the Internet were, however, more positive.
“I hope CIC could buy Liverpool,” wrote another. “At least we taxpayers would know where this money goes.”
According to British media reports, as many as six potential parties are looking to buy the 18-time English champions, who were put up for sale by American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett in April.
“China has a decent Red Army,” added a third poster on Sina.com. “It is not surprising we want to buy another one.” — Reuters