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Berlusconi mulls AC Milan sale to Asia

AC Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi is preparing to weigh up two separate offers for the club that could see a majority stake in the Italian Serie A giants sold to either a Thai or Hong Kong businessman, reports said on Thursday.

Berlusconi mulls AC Milan sale to Asia
AC Milan has struggled to keep up with the pace in Serie A. AC Milan photo: Shutterstock

Speculation surrounding the eventual sale of the seven-time European champions has intensified in the past year amid the club's struggle to keep up with the pace in Serie A, and their recurring failure to qualify for Europe.

Berlusconi was earlier this month quoted as saying he had agreed terms on selling a 75 percent holding in the club to a consortium with close ties to the Chinese government.

A month previously, reports claimed Berlusconi had signed a preliminary agreement to sell 30 percent of the club to Thai businessman Bee Taechaubol at the end of May for €250 million.

La Gazzetta dello Sport on Thursday reported the three-time Italian prime minister Berlusconi is moving closer towards selling a majority stake in the club, with Taechaubol – known as Mr. Bee – and Richard Lee, a Hong Kong businessman representing a Chinese-led consortium, leading the race.

Gazzetta said due diligence of the club had already been carried out by representatives of Mr Bee.

The report quoted Thai Prime, a South East Asian-based Private Equity group founded by Taechaubol, as saying: "Mr Bee will be in Milan on Sunday with the purpose of buying a majority stake in AC Milan."

However, the Italian sports daily said the "more important" story could be the arrival of Lee in Milan, possibly on Friday.

The report added that due diligence of the club by representatives of the Chinese consortium would be "finalized shortly", after which "concrete and official offers" could be made.

Milan are said to be among the most popular foreign clubs in China and the push for Berlusconi to sell, according to Gazzetta, has come directly from the Chinese government as they look to raise the sport's profile in the country.

If the deal were to go through, Milan would become the second Serie A club to be sold to Asian investors.

Indonesian tycoon Erick Thohir bought a 70 percent stake in Inter Milan in November 2013.

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BUSINESS

EU finds Italy’s Alitalia loans ‘illegal’ but airline free to keep money

The EU's antitrust authorities ruled Friday that Italy's 900 million euro loans to long-struggling airline Alitalia were "illegal", but cleared the country's new carrier to get state funding and avoid paying back the money. 

Ahmad AL-RUBAYE / AFP
Ahmad AL-RUBAYE / AFP

“Following our in-depth investigation, we reached the conclusion that two public loans worth EUR 900 million granted by Italy to Alitalia gave the company an unfair advantage over its competitors, in breach of EU State aid rules,” said EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.

“They must now be recovered by Italy from Alitalia to help restore a level playing field in the European aviation industry.”

But the authorities in Brussels simultaneously said new flag airline ITA – set to start flying next month – was not liable to reimburse the money and that 1.35 billion euros being injected into the firm by Rome did not breach state aid rules.

“Italy has demonstrated that there is a clear break between Alitalia and the new airline ITA, and that its investment in ITA is in line with terms that a private investor would have accepted,” Vestager said.

“Once ITA takes off, it is for Italy and ITA’s management to make use of this opportunity once and for all. And we will continue to do our part to ensure fair competition in the European aviation sector.”

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Loss-making Alitalia was placed under state administration in 2017 but Italy has struggled to find an investor to take it over. The situation was only exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic that grounded airlines worldwide.

The Italian government gave the company two loans for the amount of EUR 600 million and EUR 300 million in 2017, as Alitalia scrambled for liquidity without access to the debt market.

Earlier this year Italy said it had reached an agreement with the European Union for a bailout that creates a new debt-free company to take over some of Alitalia’s assets – ITA.

The board of directors of ITA last month approved a binding offer for 52 of Alitalia’s aircraft, related airport slots and other assets.

The Italian government has created a 100-million-euro ($117-million) fund to reimburse Alitalia customers.

Italy provided state loans to Alitalia totalling 1.3 billion euros between 2017 and 2019.

In July, it approved another 700 million euros for ITA.

Further sums are expected in 2022 and 2023, bringing the total to 1.35 billion euros.

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