A wealthy Hong Kong businessman known for importing luxury sports cars is reported to be heading a Chinese consortium bidding to take over Italian soccer giants AC Milan.
Richard Lee Man-fai has been in negotiations with club owner and two-time Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi as head of a group with close links to the Beijing government, the respected La Gazzetta dello Sport reported.
Lee, whose former company Auto Italia is the largest distributor of Ferrari and Maserati cars in China, was not available for comment. A long-time friend of Lee was unable to confirm the deal, but told the South China Morning Post the reports were highly plausible.
The latest report quoted Berlusconi as saying at a private event on Tuesday that “the sale of 75 per cent of the club to the Chinese has been done”.
The deal could be worth up to €1.5 billion (HK$12.6 billion), the report said.
The friend of Lee’s said putting together such a deal would pose no trouble for the merchant who, in 2006, was awarded the Commander of the Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity for his contributions to Italian business.
“[Lee] would have had easy access to the deal to buy AC Milan,” said the friend, who wished to remain anonymous. “The power of Richard is the friends he grew up with. When you’ve been selling Ferraris in Hong Kong for more than 20 years – to tycoons when they were young – he’s the guy in the middle of all this.”
Lee was a close friend of former Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo, who would know Berlusconi, the friend added.
Berlusconi, a media tycoon turned politician whose colourful private life is never far from the headlines, was reported to be meeting the Chinese group in the coming days. But it will not be his first chat with would-be buyers.
Reports last month claimed Berlusconi had signed a preliminary agreement to sell 30 per cent of the club to Thai businessman Bee Taechaubol for €250 million.
In February, Chinese billionaire Wang Jianlin , who recently bought Swiss sports marketing giant Infront for €1.05 billion and took a 20 per cent stake in Spanish champions Atletico Madrid, entered the fray as a possible investor.
AC Milan are one of the most famous and successful clubs in world soccer, but the last of their 18 Italian titles came in 2011 and the last of their seven Champions League trophies was won in 2007.
Lee began importing Ferraris to Hong Kong in 1992 through Auto Italia. Two years later the company secured a deal to begin importing Maseratis.
Text: SCMP BY Mark Sharp, Bryan Harris and Agence France-Presse PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 April, 2015, 1:29pm UPDATED : Saturday, 04 April, 2015, 4:41am