Liverpool ownership tussle returns to UK court

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LONDON (AP) - Liverpool’s ownership battle returned to the High Court on Thursday, with lawyers questioning the validity of an injunction granted a day earlier by a Texas judge blocking the club’s sale to the owners of the Boston Red Sox.

American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. obtained a last-minute court order in Dallas on Wednesday stopping the $476 million sale to New England Sports Ventures _ just as the Liverpool board was set to approve it.

David Chivers, a lawyer representing NESV, told the London court that the Liverpool board’s decision to sell the club should be considered valid, and dismissed Hicks and Gillett’s legal action in Texas.

“We are the owners (of Liverpool), Chivers said. “The owners from beyond the grave are seeking to exercise with their dead hand a continuing grip on this company.”

Richard Snowden, a lawyer representing Royal Bank of Scotland _ which controls Liverpool’s debts and has been trying to get the sale approved _ told the High Court that the Texas ruling was “inappropriate” and should have no bearing on the case.

“The Texas court seems to have been told remarkably little about the proceedings in this court,” Snowden said. “This is the most outrageous abuse of process. … The proceedings in Texas are plainly inappropriate.

“This dispute concerns an English football club and their English companies. It has nothing to do with Texas other than the fact that Messrs. Hicks and Gillett may reside there.”

Hicks and Gillett were not represented at the hearing.

The legal wrangling looked set to continue on both sides of the Atlantic, as the court was then told that lawyers for Hicks and Gillett were back in the Texas district court arguing that the Liverpool board meeting held Wednesday was in contempt of the judge’s injunction.

Anthony Grabiner, a lawyer representing the Liverpool board at the London hearing, called the Dallas court case “frankly preposterous.”

“It reads like a novel,” he said. “If it wasn’t so serious, it would be a joke. … It’s a grotesque parody of the truth.”

Hicks and Gillett turned to the Texas judge Wednesday after High Court Judge Christopher Floyd ruled against Hicks and Gillett in their attempt to block the sale. The duo called the attempted sale an “epic swindle” that undervalues the storied Premier League club and said they were suing for $1.6 billion in damages. A court hearing in Dallas is set for Oct. 25.

John Henry, the financier who heads NESV, attended the hastily called board meeting in London on Wednesday night hoping to quickly complete the sale. However, he left through a back entrance to the law firm offices in the early morning hours, ignoring reporters’ questions.

Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton told Sky Sports News on Thursday that Hicks and Gillett are “trying every trick” to prevent the deal from going through.

Debts and liabilities resulting from Hicks and Gillett’s leveraged purchase of the club three years ago have grown to around $453 million, which is owed to Royal Bank of Scotland and Wells Fargo by Friday.

Two others bids emerged this week _ one from Singapore businessman Peter Lim and another from an American hedge fund Mill Financial. Hicks and Gillett said Wednesday there was also a bid from FBR Capital Markets for between $595 million to $635 million.

Lim said Wednesday he will not proceed with his bid because the board is intent on selling to NESV “at the exclusion of all other parties.”

“In these circumstances, I am not able to proceed with my intention to acquire the club,” Lim said, but added that “if current events cause the circumstances to change, my interest in acquiring the club remains.”

If Liverpool’s sale is delayed, the club could fail to meet Friday’s deadline to repay its debts to RBS. If Liverpool is put into financial administration, a form of bankruptcy protection, the club would be docked nine points by the Premier League. However, it seems unlikely that RBS would take the club into administration at this point.

Liverpool, an 18-time English league champion, is currently mired in the relegation zone after its worst start to a league season since 1953.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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