Berlusconi May Keep AC Milan and Bank $316 Million Should Sale Collapse

Updated on
  • Buyers would pay third non-refundable 100 million-euro deposit
  • Chinese group’s latest deadline to close deal is March 3

Billionaire Silvio Berlusconi is considering accepting a third, non-refundable 100 million-euro ($105 million) deposit to give the Chinese investor group seeking to buy his AC Milan soccer team more time to complete the deal, according to people familiar with the situation.

Sino-Europe Sports Investment Management Changxing’s preliminary agreement to purchase AC Milan for 740 million euros was supposed to be concluded in December, but Berlusconi extended the deadline to March 3. Bloomberg News reported last month that Chinese authorities have blocked the investment group from transferring funds from mainland China to buy the seven-time European champion team.

Berlusconi will benefit from the new delay in closing the transaction. Even if the deal collapses, the former Italian prime minister would get 300 million euros and retain control of his beloved soccer team. That scenario would be a remarkable twist in his three-decade ownership of AC Milan, which enjoyed its longest period of success under the 80-year-old.

The transfer is being held up partly because the Chinese embassy in Rome disapproved of the warm welcome to Milan for the Dalai Lama in October, according to people familiar with the situation. In addition, China is redoubling efforts to encourage domestic investment in a bid to prop up the yuan.

Berlusconi’s holding company Fininvest SpA is considering granting the new delay until the end of March in return for another non-refundable deposit, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the talks are private. SES and Fininvest declined to comment.

The former Italian prime minister’s two-year odyssey to sell the soccer team has been among the lengthiest in recent history. He turned to SES in August after more than a year of talks with Thai businessman Bee Taechaubol failed. In October, Bloomberg News reported the Chinese investors filed a false bank report during initial negotiations.

Unable to transfer its money out of China, the investors had to draw on accounts based in the British Virgin Islands to make a second, 100 million-euro deposit in December.

An AC Milan shareholder meeting is scheduled for Friday. Corriere della Sera earlier reported the latest delay in the transaction’s closing.

(Adds Berlusconi standing to profit from collapsed sale in 3rd paragraph.)
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