Associated Press

Bangkok, May 11:

Thailand’s tycoon prime minister has agreed to buy a one-third stake in English soccer club Liverpool, but the billionaire leader won’t say whether he or the Asian kingdom’s taxpayers will pay the estimated $100 million bill. “Let’s wait until Thailand buys the team before going into details whether we will spend Thais’ money or the private sector’s,” Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra told reporters on Tuesday. Earlier, government spokesman Jakrapob Penkair said the purchase will be “made in the name of Thailand,” indicating that public funds would be used to buy the minimum 30 per cent stake.

The deal to buy a minimum 30 per cent stake was apparently concluded on Monday in talks between PM Thaksin Shinawatra — a former police officer who made a fortune out of telecommunications — and a Liverpool club delegation led by the club’s chief executive Rick Parry in Bangkok. Government spokesman Jakrapob Penkair said the purchase will be “made in the name of Thailand,” indicating that public funds would be used to buy the stake — estimated to be worth more than $100 million. “The Thai government is the one that negotiated the deal, not Thaksin,” he said, adding that the amount to be paid for the stake has not been concluded yet. The government’s involvement in the purchase is a new development that took many by surprise.

Thaksin had met on Monday with a group of Liverpool representatives led by the club’s chief executive Rick Parry at his office in the Government House for the last round of discussions, and had given the impression to reporters that he would buy a 30 per cent stake in the club with the help of other private Thai investors. Thaksin told reporters after the meeting that the stake would cost more than $100 million. The Thai stake will likely come from the 51 per cent owned by Liverpool chairman David Moores. The second biggest stake of 9.9 per cent is currently owned by television company Granada. Property developer Steve Morgan has 5 per cent. Morgan had tried to raise his stake but was rebuffed by the club’s board in March.

The deal would give Thaksin merchandising rights in Thailand and also includes establishing soccer academies in Thailand to promote Thai youngsters into the world arena. On Monday, Thaksin had called the imminent deal a “leap frog step” in his ambition to promote soccer in Thailand. Thaksin turned to Liverpool in February after failing in a bid to purchase Fulham, owned by his good friend, Harrods store owner Mohammed al Fayed.