BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) - A government-linked investment company may set up a unit trust fund to finance the state purchase of a 30 percent stake in
Liverpool soccer team after a plan to raise the funds through a lottery was scuppered, an official said Wednesday.
The proposal by MFC Asset Management is the latest twist in the long running saga of an extravagant and some say wasteful scheme mooted by Prime
Minister Thaksin Shinawatra earlier this year to buy the stake in the English Premier League club for $115 million. The Thai government is yet to
respond to MFC's plan.
"We are ready to explore the opportunity of setting up a special fund for the government's plan to invest in Liverpool," an MRF official told
Dow Jones Newswires, speaking on condition of anonymity. The official refused to give details.
However, MFC will first need to seek approval from the Securities and Exchange Commission, said the official. MFC is 30 percent owned by the Ministry
of Finance and the Government Savings Bank while the state-controlled Industrial Finance Corp. of Thailand owns another 24.9 percent. Unit trust funds
are similar to a mutual fund. Investors buy multiple units of a fund and receive dividends. As of the end of March, MFC was managing a total of 119
funds in Thailand, including half of the government-sponsored 100 billion baht ($2.5 billion) Vayupak Fund. The company has a combined net asset value
of 169.19 billion ($4.23 billion).
Thaksin had initially proposed buying the stake with his money. He later proposed a one-off state lottery to raise the cash, but the plan was
withdrawn after critics said it would promote gambling and force millions of poor people to part with their hard earned money. In recent days,
government officials have cast doubts whether the deal will go through even though Thailand's offer was approved by Liverpool's board and is now in
the process of "due diligence" checks for financial viability.
Thaksin told reporters Wednesday that no progress has been made in the deal, and denied media reports that he is now eyeing another Premier League
team, Everton, which is also based in the city of Liverpool.
"The work on due diligence is still going on . It will take time, but so far there is no new progress,"
Thaksin said. Asked about Everton, he
said: "No ... one at a time."
The Liverpool plan stems from the huge popularity of soccer in Thailand, even though the country has never made a mark in the international arena.
English Premier League is widely watched on television in Thailand, and is the bedrock of widespread underground betting by Thais. The upcoming Euro
2004 tournament is also expected to spawn a gambling spree with some 1.6 million people expected to spend 30.4 billion baht ($760 million), according
to a survey released Wednesday by Assumption University of Bangkok.
It said more than 30 percent of gamblers would be school and university students. The gambling during the three-week tournament beginning Saturday
would lead to debts among failed punters of up to 9.3 billion baht ($232 million), said the survey, which had a margin of error of 1.71 percent.