Mon, Jul 05, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Thai PM loses face over failed soccer club bid

AFP , BANGKOK

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's dreams of acquiring a 30 percent stake in English club Liverpool lie in tatters, with analysts and observers decrying Thailand's latest schemes to revive the bid as farcical.

The goal of buying into the Premiership side was touted by the government first as a source of unifying national pride.

But in the end it has brought ridicule, a loss of face and raised eyebrows among foreign observers and investors over the administration's motives over the bid.

"The deal is not a good image for Thai people," media rights campaigner Supinya Klangnarong said of the continuing and shifting attempts to secure some form of a buy-in despite a loud chorus of opposition.

"I don't think the international community would admire us for what our government or businesses are trying to do," he said.

Supinya, who is currently being sued by Thaksin for alleging that a conglomerate he founded that is now run by his family has benefited under his tenure, said the premier at least distanced his administration from the deal when opposition reached fever pitch.

Had a deal gone through Thaksin may have broken barriers as the first Asian to have bought his way into the world's wealthiest football league.

England's Premiership enjoys massive popularity in Thailand, partly because its games are screened live here during prime viewing time.

In May, Thaksin, a billionaire-turned-politician and an avowed football fan, launched his campaign. The Thai press seized on the drama, and within days he found himself backpedaling over the bid in which at first he had been expected to use over 4 billion baht (US$100 million) of his own fortune.

From the start, two of three Thais thought a government-funded stake would be a waste of state money, according to a survey reported in The Nation newspaper. Then it got worse.

Thaksin variously announced plans to use taxpayer money, float shares on the Thai stock exchange, and eventually launch a massive US$250 million public lottery to raise the money.

But the Thai fantasy of pulling strings at the top of one of the world's most celebrated sports dynasties unravelled.

Last month he backed out altogether, handing over control of negotiations to Paiboon Damranongchaitham, chairman of Thailand's biggest entertainment company GMM Grammy.

Paiboon quickly sought the financial help of "millions" of Thais to contribute somehow to the purchase, but when vague proposals fell flat, the deal was reduced to passing the hat around Asian business leaders.

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