Indonesian Thohir closing in on Inter stake-source

MILAN/JAKARTA Wed Jul 24, 2013 1:01pm BST

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MILAN/JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian tycoon Erick Thohir is close to clinching a deal to buy a majority stake in Italian football club Inter Milan, a source with direct knowledge of the talks said on Wednesday.

Thohir and Massimo Moratti, owner of the cash-strapped club, have been in talks about a potential deal for months. The source said Thohir expected to conclude a deal before the start of the Italian Serie A club season, which kicks off on August 24.

"They are still negotiating, but expect to finish the deal before Serie A starts," the source said.

Daily La Repubblica said on Wednesday Thohir may have offered up to 350 million euros ($463 million) for a 75 percent stake in the club, while sports paper La Gazzetta dello Sport previously mentioned a figure of about 300 million euros.

The source confirmed Thohir was seeking a majority stake, although would not comment on a possible value for the deal.

The two papers said Thohir would be heading to Milan in the next few days, although neither Moratti nor the 43-year-old Indonesian media and entertainment magnate could be reached for comment. The source said Thohir was still in Jakarta.

Thohir, contacted by Reuters at the weekend and asked about previous reports he had agreed to pay 300 million euros for a 75 percent stake in the club, said in a text message: "Not yet, wish me luck."

Thohir already has an interest in a number of global sporting ventures, being part owner of Major League football club DC United and the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA.

A press officer for Inter Milan said he knew nothing of the talks.

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Moratti had previously said he was not ready to sell a majority interest in the club, which is loss making and has debts of about 300 million euros.

On Friday, he downplayed reports that a deal was in sight, saying he had read about it in the papers.

Inter are traditionally one of the three biggest clubs in Italian football along with champions Juventus and city rivals AC Milan.

According to the media reports, Moratti would be left in charge of operational management of the club after the takeover.

Inter have not won a trophy since 2010 and finished a disappointing ninth last season, missing out on a place in the lucrative Champions League.

Italian football has not attracted the major foreign investment seen in countries like England and France.

Europe's top league in the 1990s, Serie A has been tarnished by a series of corruption scandals and hooliganism has reduced crowd numbers.

Italian clubs have been held back commercially because many of them do not own their stadiums and have been unable to upgrade them to cater fully for wealthy corporate clients.

Inter, for example, share the San Siro stadium with AC Milan and the ground is owned by the local authorities.

($1 = 0.7565 euros)

(Reporting by Agnieszka Flak and Massimo Gaia in Milan, Keith Weir in London and Andjarsari Paramaditha in Jakarta; Editing by John O'Brien and Ken Ferris)

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