AC Milan’s Paulo Maldini holds aloft the Champions League trophy after winning the Champions League Final against Liverpool at the Olympic Stadium in Athens, Greece, on Wednesday, May 23, 2007. (Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg News)

Elliott Is Set to Take Full Control of AC Milan Soccer Team

(Bloomberg) -- Elliott Management Corp. is set to take full control of Italian soccer club AC Milan after its Chinese owner failed to repay debt owed to the U.S. investor by Friday’s deadline, according to people familiar with the matter.

Li Yonghong was due to repay 32 million of the more than 400 million euros ($469 million) of debt accumulated by the hedge fund, including interest, by Friday under the terms of their agreement, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing the private matter.

A Milan-based spokeswoman for Elliott declined to comment. Fabio Guadagnini, a representative for AC Milan soccer club, didn’t respond to phone calls seeking comment.

Billionaire Paul Singer’s hedge fund had a decisive role in allowing Li to conclude the 740 million-euro purchase of the Italian team -- Italy’s most successful club at the international level -- from Silvio Berlusconi’s investment company Fininvest in 2017, by providing last-minute financing.

Elliott lent Li 303 million euros to complete the purchase of the team and provided a further 32 million euros to help the club resolve a dispute with soccer’s European governing body UEFA, people familiar with the matter said in May.

UEFA said on May 22 that the team breached financial fair-play rules because of uncertainties about the team’s effort to refinance the loan provided by Elliott. Because of this, AC Milan was banned from European competition.

Refinancing Bid

AC Milan hired Bank of America Merrill Lynch earlier this year to refinance the team’s debt and in recent weeks, the club has attracted investors willing to buy controlling stakes, though no deals were secured. Possible buyers included Italian-American media magnate Rocco Commisso and the Ricketts family, which owns the Chicago Cubs Major League Baseball team.

The sale of AC Milan to Li was fraught with difficulties. The original investment group changed several times, and in September 2017 Bloomberg reported that it filed a false bank report during negotiations with Berlusconi’s company. Li denied the allegations.

The deal, originally scheduled to close in December 2016, also was delayed because the investment group lacked authorization to export funds from China. Regulators in China have been ramping up their scrutiny of outbound investments, with a particular focus on sports and entertainment.

Li, who became chairman of the soccer club last year, had to use his personal wealth to help complete the deal and also pledged the team as a guarantee to secure financing from Elliott last year.

His original plan included a listing of the club on a Chinese stock exchange. In a draft of the original fundraising materials, the Chinese investor group indicated the team’s value could multiply several times in the long term to reach 2.9 billion euros, rivaling top clubs like Real Madrid and Manchester United, according to documents obtained by Bloomberg.

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