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Ex-Liverpool Owners to Wait for U.K. Court Ruling

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Feb. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Former Liverpool owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks must wait two weeks to learn whether they can sue in the U.S. over the forced sale of the 18-time English soccer champion.

Justice Christopher Floyd, after a three-day hearing at London’s High Court, said he’ll issue a written ruling into the ex-owners’ request to amend the October ruling that cleared the way for the 300-million-pound ($483 million) buyout by the group that owns the Boston Red Sox.

Hicks and Gillett bought the team in a 219-million-pound leveraged buyout in 2007, have called the sale an “epic swindle.” They have also said the team’s directors and lender Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc conspired against them during the sale. The duo filed a lawsuit in Texas to block the deal and sought $1.6 billion in damages. They later dropped the case when threatened with a U.K. contempt of court charge.

Hicks has said the team was worth as much as 800 million pounds and Forbes Magazine in April estimated its value at 533 million pounds. Paul Girolami, a lawyer for the former owners, said the restrictions blocking his clients from taking a case to the U.S. were to allow the sale, and should now be lifted.

At the hearing yesterday, lawyers for Hicks and Gillett produced an e-mail from Christian Purslow, the team’s former managing director, in which he described a deal with Red Sox-owner New England Sports Ventures as “bottom of the barrel.” It wasn’t clear whether he was referring to the offer that was approved.

‘Other People’s Money’

“They may say they have money if necessary but I do not take this very seriously,” Purslow said in the Sept. 14 e-mail. “Their eyes only lit up at the idea of other opportunity improvements. An American deal guy simply can’t avoid using other people’s money if they can.”

He suggested that the board return to people who’d earlier expressed interest in buying the club in the previous 18 months to check their current interest and bring an offer higher than NESV’s. “I repeat this is a bottom of the barrel outcome,” Purslow said in the e-mail.

That was a month before he, former club chairman Martin Broughton and Ian Ayre, Liverpool’s commercial director, agreed to the sale. Purslow punched the air in celebration after Floyd approved the deal Oct. 14. Purslow is no longer with the club.

A spokesman for Liverpool said the team and Purslow, who remains a non-executive director, won’t be commenting while the case is ongoing.

$222 Million

Hicks and Gillett lost the club, and $222 million in equity, after failing to repay RBS and Wells Fargo & Co. a 200-million-pound loan linked to their takeover. They still owe RBS millions in penalties and fees.

RBS has said that, under the loan agreements they signed, the men can only pursue their damages claim in English courts.

To underline the former owners concern that they weren’t kept informed of the sale, Girolami said the first they knew about the existence of NESV’s interest in the team was at a board meeting on Oct. 5. Purslow’s e-mail was sent on Sept. 15.

He also described an Aug. 22 e-mail from NESV’s U.S. advisers, Inner Circle Sports, to Broughton, telling the chairman to keep the talks “confidential” from the ex-owners. Broughton agreed to the request, Girolami said. There are about 75,000 e-mails linked to the sale, Girolami said he was told by Broughton’s lawyers.

Broughton is deputy chairman of International Consolidated Airlines Group SA, the company created in January via the merger of British Airways Plc and Iberia Lineas Aereas de Espana SA.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tariq Panja in London at at tpanja@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at at celser@bloomberg.net

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