Investigative programme Report asked some very serious questions on Yonghong Li’s Milan takeover. “Nobody knows who the real owner of Milan is.”
The Chinese businessman bought the club from Silvio Berlusconi in April 2017 for €740m, but was only able to do so thanks to a loan worth €303m from US hedge fund Elliott Management.
With a very high interest rate of 11 per cent, the full repayment of €380m is due in October and if Yonghong Li doesn’t meet that deadline, Elliott will effectively become the new club owners.
UEFA cited in their refusal to agree a Financial Fair Play settlement agreement their grave concerns over Yonghong Li’s financial stability.
“There remain uncertainties in relation to the refinancing of the loan and the notes to be paid back in October 2018.”
Rai 3 investigative programme Report aired a 21-minute expose on Monday night examining the takeover and pointing out it was not clear where any of this money had come from.
Today, Yonghong Li had to provide another €10m of capital to keep Elliott at bay and he provided the sum via Luxembourg. He has consistently denied there are any issues over his financial stability.
Report traced the money for the takeover and noted it was all from various offshore accounts and corporations based in Luxembourg, the Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands and Guernsey.
The programme makers spoke to several financial analysts, along with the New York Times reporters who visited Yonghong Li’s business headquarters and found only an eviction notice.
“The real question is this: why does all this money come from jurisdictions that guarantee anonymity? The answer is: because someone wants to remain anonymous,” said money laundering expert Gian Gaetano Bellavia.
Carlo Festa, reporter for financial newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore, had similar suggestions.
“Nobody knows who the real owner of Milan is. It’s a fact that the Milanese authorities have opened an investigation after receiving a tip-off from the Banca d’Italia to find out where this money has come from.”
Yonghong Li took out the massive €303m loan with 11 per cent interest from Elliott Management, but only a few months later received another loan worth $8.3m from Teamway, a company based in the Cayman Islands.
David Webb, independent financial analyst for Webbsite.com, said the interest was “originally 14 per cent and has now gone up to 24 per cent. That means Mr Li’s situation is desperate if he was unable to find financing at more advantageous terms than that.”
New York Times Beijing correspondent Sui-Lee Wee said they had “asked around and nobody knew who Yonghong Li was. I ask myself who did due diligence on Mr Li’s companies – assuming they even did!”
Report were particularly intrigued by the presence of a company called Blue Skye in the financing of the Milan takeover, as their leaders Gianluca D’Avanzo and Salvatore Cerchione are based in London with very strong links to previous Rossoneri patron Silvio Berlusconi.
They were also both on the Board of Directors of a company called SOPAF with ex-Milan CEO Adriano Galliani.
The Milan sale came at a time when Berlusconi's holding company Fininvest was fending off a hostile takeover bid by Vivendi.
Report noted they tried repeatedly to have interviews with Milan CEO Marco Fassone, which was organised and then cancelled at the last minute.
“There are anomalies in the takeover. Mr Li chose as his advisors Rothschild, whose Vice-President in London Paolo Scaroni is a long-term faithful collaborator with Berlusconi, the man who was selling the club to him,” said presenter Sigfrido Ranucci.
“We asked Yonghong Li and Scaroni for an explanation, but they preferred not to speak to us. The two Neapolitan financiers who set up the vehicle for the Elliott loan - €303m – also kept their mouths firmly shut. They are old friends of Galliani, who refused to speak to us.
“The only one who can tell us who Mr Li really is, is President Berlusconi. Who judged him suitable to sell your beloved Milan to? Now you announced that you’d like to buy the club back. It would probably be easy enough, seeing as you have a few friends still on the Board of Directors.”
If Yonghong Li were to default on the loan, Elliott Management would essentially take control of Milan for half the sum originally paid.
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