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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 May, 2004, 01:42 GMT 02:42 UK
Billionaire hopes to score Liverpool deal
By Bill Wilson
BBC News Online business reporter

Thaksin Shinawatra
Mr Thaksin is not accustomed to coming off second-best

Like most foreigners considering investing in British football, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra took the precaution of being a billionaire to begin with.

Mr Thaksin began working life as a policeman, but has grown rich from Shin Corp, a telecoms company that grew into the country's biggest communications group, bringing him a personal fortune of at least $1bn (560m).

He is hoping to purchase a 30% stake in Liverpool Football Club, which has been controlled by the Moores family for more than half a century, with an investment of more than $105m.

Playing to win

But is this another in a string of soccer vanity investments, or has the shrewd Mr Thaksin picked another winner?

Mr Thaksin certainly boasts an enviable track record.

This is a bold and daring move on Thaksin's part
Tor Peterson, sports business consultant
Born in the northern city of Chiang Mai in 1949, he worked in the family business - covering everything from silk to buses- from boyhood, and ran a cinema at the age of 16.

His move into the telecommunications and the computer industry came in 1982, when he signed a contract with the Thai police department to supply it with computer software.

In 1987, after 14 years' police service, he resigned to market a film - Bann Sai Thong - and to set up Shinawatra Computer and Communications Group.

Shinawatra initially concentrated on software marketing, and a year later he joined with Pacific Telesis to operate and market the PacLink pager service.

There was a split in the company, with Mr Thaksin going on to start his own successful pager service, Shinawatra Paging.

That evolved into the cellular phone business and Advanced Info Service, which now has the largest customer base in Thailand.

Along the way, Mr Thaksin also launched communications satellites, believing Thailand should have its own satellites and not have to rent space from satellites owned by other nations.

In 1990 he made a successful bid for a 20-year concession from the Telephone Organisation of Thailand, paying 20bn baht (280m; $496m) in concession fees to gain the contract.

New stadium

The renamed Shin Corporation is now a huge communications conglomerate with interests in mobile phone communications, data solutions, internet services, IT applications, and international satellite services, earning the telecoms tycoon a vast fortune.

Protestor
Mr Thaksin has many critics at home
In 2001 a court rejected a finding he had intentionally failed to list 160m of company shares owned by him and his wife, but held in the names of several nominees, including some of their domestic servants.

The Liverpool deal will provide a financial boost for the club, allowing them to compete with the Premiership's richest clubs, buy new players, and help finance an 80m proposed new stadium in Stanley Park.

However, the reasons for the prime minister's moves appear less clear - his representatives say it is because of a love of the game, while more cynical voices have said it may be to boost his political popularity in the soccer-mad nation.

Tor Peterson, managing director of Zou Corporation, a Hong-Kong based sports business consultancy operating in the Far East, said: "This is a bold and daring move on his part.

"I believe he sees it as his responsibility to improve the standard of play in the country, and at the same time it will create a great sense of excitement.

"It also shows he is putting sports development as an important part of the country's cultural backbone."

'World-class name'

Mr Thaksin's spokesman, Chakrapot Penkai, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Thailand thinks that the Liverpool team can enhance the standard of the sport's development here a great deal.

"Why does the prime minister want to invest in Liverpool? Because it is the era of the brand name, with a good quality brand name you can do many things.

"Liverpool's is a world-class name - people attach their fantasies, their liking for sports, their enhancement in life, their self-development, along with this kind of team."

Mr Thaksin, who claims to be a Liverpool fan, said a company formed with other Thai private investors to pump money into the club will get commercial rights to use the Liverpool brand, and the premier league team will set up a soccer academy in Thailand.

In Thailand, Mr Thaksin is known for living by a motto he learned at the police cadet school: "Better to die than to live like a loser."

And, although Liverpool have struggled in the past three seasons, the Thai prime minister will be hoping that on this occasion he has picked a winner to match his previous business successes.


SEE ALSO:
Thai PM yet to clinch deal
11 May 04  |  Liverpool
Thais deny Liverpool link
16 Mar 04  |  Liverpool
Thai PM eyes Liverpool bid
23 Feb 04  |  Liverpool
Thai PM renews Fulham talk
30 Oct 03  |  Fulham
Profile: Thaksin Shinawatra
28 Apr 04  |  Asia-Pacific


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