Serepisos to sell half of Wellington Phoenix

DAVE BURGESS
Last updated 05:00 22/02/2011
Ahsan Ali Syed
Reuters
CASH WOES: Ahsan Ali Syed before his Racing Santander team plays at El Sardinero Stadium in Santander.
Terry Serepisos
THE DOMINION POST
TERRY SEREPISOS: Confident that the WGA deal will go through.

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Under-fire property developer Terry Serepisos plans to sell half the Wellington Phoenix to the owner of a top-flight Spanish football club – and claims a $100 million-plus loan deal will solve his financial woes.

The move would see Racing Santander owner Ahsan Ali Syed, 37, take a half-share in the Phoenix and open the door for its players to possibly make their way into Spain's La Liga premier league, which boasts clubs such as Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The $100m-plus loan deal with Mr Ali's Bahrain-based company Western Gulf Advisory was signed in Switzerland and would be confirmed by mid March once some conditions had been met, a confident and defiant Mr Serepisos said yesterday.

Being able to finally talk about the deal was a "good day". "It's my time to be able to hit back and tell people what's going on ... I have been hit, hit, hit, by all these small people who want to pull me down. I've had enough of it."

He was "100 per cent confident" the deal would proceed. "I am doing the best for the Phoenix, the best for the city and the best for football ... What could become of this for football in New Zealand is huge. It's bigger than Ben Hur."

He said the cash injection would allow him to restructure his Century City group of companies, free up cash for future projects, and pay off all debts.

Mr Ali, speaking from Spain yesterday, said loan negotiations had been "matured" and a "conclusion" would be announced soon.

Five companies owned by Mr Serepisos – including the one that owns the Phoenix – face liquidation by the Inland Revenue Department for unpaid taxes of more than $3.5m. That was put aside in the High Court at Wellington yesterday until March 7.

Mr Serepisos is unlikely to have secured his new loan deal by then, but said that, if Inland Revenue wanted its money by March 7, he could easily organise bridging finance. "But that won't happen. They just want to know that the deal is going through and they will be paid."

He said he had been working with WGA on the loan deal for the past five months. It would slash the interest rate he pays on loans and ensure the future of his companies.

"My focus at the moment is to restructure my company to put me in a comfortable situation where I don't have any cashflow issues.

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"I've got too many lenders and their interest rates are incredibly high. I am involved in mortgage trusts that are in liquidation themselves, which puts pressure on me. They want their money back."

Claims in the National Business Review that WGA was running a Nigerian-like loan scam, in which Mr Serepisos had to put up $750,000 before he got any loan money, were dismissed by Mr Serepisos and Mr Ali.

Mr Serepisos said he had "done due diligence" on WGA – as it had done on him – and he would take defamation action against NBR.

He did say he had paid money to WGA, but declined to say how much. "Once it reached a certain level, and I had done my due diligence on the man, I had to pay like a normal fee, just like in a bank."

Mr Ali, who was also considering legal action against NBR, said he admired Mr Serepisos' business acumen.

"I think Terry Serepisos is an excellent businessman. I like his ambition ... and I like the way he operates."

The Indian-born Mr Ali said his interest in the Phoenix was because he wanted to "help Terry Serepisos".

"If I could do that by merely sponsoring the Phoenix to make it a little bit more liquid than it is today, then I would go for that option. If that cannot be achieved ... then I will look into ownership ... I am confident that I can do a deal with Terry."

He confirmed that a 50-50 ownership contract was under negotiation.

CONTROVERSY SHADOWS AHSAN ALI SYED

He owns a Spanish football team and came close to owning an English Premier League team, but the truth about a man who could soon own half the Phoenix remains a mystery

Mr Ali grew up in Hyderabad, India, and shuttles between Zurich and Bahrain, where he lives with his family and manages his financial consultancy company Western Gulf Advisory.

Last year Mr Ali was the frontrunner to buy Premier League team Blackburn Rovers, captained by All White Ryan Nelsen, for 300 million (NZ$650m). That deal fell over and the club was eventually bought by Indian poultry giant Venkys.

During negotiations, Mr Ali came under intense scrutiny from British media. The BBC alleged he had left a string of unpaid debts from his time living in Britain between 2001 and 2005.

The Daily Telegraph claimed he was ordered to close WGA after officials began investigating its funding and operations after a big leap in its assets. Speaking to The Dominion Post, Mr Ali denied there had ever been an investigation in Bahrain.

He also rejected accusations in a New Zealand newspaper comparing his business dealings to "Nigerian scams".

"We have recently taken an office in Amsterdam. We will open that office shortly, so we are expanding. I don't think Nigerian scamsters expand."

Earlier this year, his aspirations to own a football club came to fruition as it was announced he had taken control of Spanish La Liga club Racing Santander.

Yesterday, Mr Serepisos handed The Dominion Post a pile of media reports detailing Mr Ali's and WGA's sponsorship of a range of sporting teams and events, including the Bahrain national side, beaten by the All Whites in Wellington in their World Cup qualifying playoff in 2009.

Another article spoke about Mr Ali's goodwill after he gave 40,000 to a day centre for homeless youngsters while he was negotiating to buy Blackburn.

WHAT'S NEXT?

Terry Serepisos has until March 7 to come up with a way to stave off possible liquidation of five companies for more than $3.5m in unpaid taxes.

He has until March 7 to come up with a way to stave off possible bankruptcy action over $6.1m owed to FM Custodians.

Expects $100m-plus loan deal with WGA to be confirmed by mid-March.

Also expects the 50 per cent sale of Wellington Phoenix to proceed soon.

- The Dominion Post

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