Bidders eye second-tier soccer club Birmingham City

HONG KONG/LONDON Tue Oct 9, 2012 12:12pm BST

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HONG KONG/LONDON (Reuters) - Birmingham City have become the latest second flight English soccer team to attract potential buyers, the club's Hong Kong-based parent company said on Tuesday.

No binding agreements have been entered into on the sale of the club, and discussions were still at an early stage, Birmingham International said in a statement posted on the Hong Kong bourse.

"The company has been approached by two prospective buyers to explore the possibility of buying Birmingham City FC," Chief Executive Peter Pannu said in the statement, without detailing any value to the potential sale. Both parties have signed confidentiality agreements with Birmingham.

British media reported last week that Gianni Paladini, an Italian who is the former chairman of English top tier soccer club Queens Park Rangers, was leading a consortium trying to buy the club.

Trading in the company's shares has been suspended since June 2011, when its largest shareholder Carson Yeung was arrested on five counts of alleged money laundering of more than 57 million pounds.

Birmingham play in the English Championship, the level below the wealthy Premier League, having been relegated in 2011. They have made a poor start to the season and are currently 21st in a 24-team league.

The financial gulf between the Premier League and Championship is huge and will widen next season when the Premier League enjoys the benefits of an enhanced new TV deal.

The bigger clubs in the Championship are attracting interest from investors who have their eyes on the Premier League riches. A group of Kuwaitis took over former European champions Nottingham Forest earlier this year, while Leeds United are also in takeover talks.

Yeung has to apply for court approval to travel to Britain as he is barred from leaving Hong Kong while his case is being heard. He owns about a quarter of Birmingham International, which had a market value of HK$550 million before its trading suspension, according to Thomson Reuters data.

(Reporting by Kelvin Soh in Hong Kong and Keith Weir in London; Editing by Daniel Magnowski and Mike Nesbit)

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