Berlusconi meeting Thai businessman over Milan stake sale

By Paolo Biondi and Simon Webb

ROME/BANGKOK April 29 (Reuters) - Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi met Thai businessman Bee Taechaubol on Wednesday to discuss the sale of a stake in Serie A soccer club AC Milan, which he has owned for almost 30 years.

A source close to Berlusconi said the meeting may not be decisive but would be "certainly very important".

A report in Italian financial daily Sole 24 Ore on Wednesday said Bee, who traveled to Italy earlier this week, planned to present a 500-million euro ($550 million) offer for a 51 percent stake in AC Milan.

The Thai businessman is part of a consortium that includes other investors from China and the United Arab Emirates, the paper added. A source close to Bee confirmed Wednesday's meeting without elaborating.

The Gazzetta dello Sport daily published pictures of Bee arriving at Berlusconi's residence at Arcore near Milan in a black minibus with darkened windows.

One of Italy's most prestigious clubs, seven-times European champions AC Milan helped burnish Berlusconi's image during his 20-year career at the top of Italian politics. Sale of the club would represent the end of an era.

Speculation that the 78-year-old billionaire, who has increasingly stepped back from frontline politics, is preparing a sale of one of the crown jewels of his empire has increased amid speculation he may divest other assets including broadcaster Mediaset.

His son Pier Silvio denied on Wednesday that his family's controlling stake in Mediaset was for sale but both French group Vivendi and Rupert Murdoch's Sky have been reported to be interested in some of its television assets.

Berlusconi, who modeled the name of his political party Forza Italia (Go Italy!) on the cheers of football fans, has always held soccer close to his heart, both as a club owner and an entrepreneur whose TV stations were built on the back of televised soccer.

But AC Milan, which last won the Serie A championship in 2011, has struggled to compete financially with the top teams from other major European leagues. They have since been selling some of their best players and are having a particularly bad season, standing 10th in Serie A.

Bee, executive director of south-east Asian private equity group Thai Prime Company Limited, said in February he had held talks about buying a stake in the Milanese club after media reports that he had made an offer of one billion euros for a controlling stake.

Milan, which has debts for about 250 million euros, is owned by Berlusconi through his Fininvest holding company that also controls broadcaster Mediaset.

The club lost 91.3 million euros in 2014.

If a deal on selling AC Milan is reached, the club would follow their city rivals in being bought by south-east Asian investors after Indonesian tycoon Erick Thohir headed a group that acquired a 70 percent stake in Inter in 2013.

($1 = 0.9095 euros) (Additional reporting by Elvira Pollina in Milan; Writing by Agnieszka Flak and James Mackenzie; Editing by Giselda Vagnoni and Tom Heneghan)

Sorry we are not currently accepting comments on this article.