MILAN (Reuters) - Silvio Berlusconi will keep control of his AC Milan soccer club but could sell a minority stake, his holding company said on Saturday following talks between the former Italian prime minister and Thai businessman Bee Taechaubol.
Berlusconi met Bee for the second time this week but a statement from Fininvest dismissed growing media speculation in recent months that he could sell a majority stake in Milan, one of Italy’s most glamorous clubs.
“The proposed collaboration, which remains to be defined in many points, foresees the acquisition of a minority stake by a group of investors and that control of the club remains solidly in the hands of President Silvio Berlusconi and Fininvest,” the statement read.
Italian media reports said Bee was offering 500 million euros ($560 million) for a 51 percent stake in Milan, aiming to join a series of other foreign tycoons who have bought some of the most prestigious European soccer clubs in recent years.
AC Milan, seven times European champions, has been a central part of Berlusconi’s media and political empire for three decades.
But the club has lost some of its shine in recent years. It won the most recent of its 18 Serie A championships in 2011, racked up debts of 250 million euros and made a loss of 91 million euros last year.
“My main concern is to give Milan fans the guarantee that the new season will ensure a future that matches the heights of the glorious past,” Berlusconi told reporters after meeting Bee at a Milan hotel. The two men also met at Berlusconi’s sumptuous villa on Wednesday.
The Fininvest statement said discussion topics included raising the value of the AC Milan brand in Asia.
Neither Berlusconi nor Bee offered any indication of how long it could take to wrap up a deal.
“We are now going to work on some minor details and we’ll take a little bit more time,” said Bee, executive director of private equity group Thai Prime Company Limited.
Bee has reached an agreement in principle with Fininvest to buy a stake in AC Milan and the two sides were in exclusive negotiations, Thai Prime said in a statement.
As well as Milan, speculation has grown that Berlusconi may sell his Mediaset television group’s pay TV operation, built around broadcast rights to Champions League soccer matches.
Mediaset, Italy’s biggest commercial broadcaster, was a key element in Berlusconi’s 20-year-long domination of Italian politics, while his image as a winner was burnished by the on-field success of his soccer club.
Berlusconi’s political fortunes have faded since he was forced from office as prime minister at the height of the eurozone crisis in 2011 and convicted for tax fraud in 2013.
He has increasingly withdrawn from frontline politics and struggled to keep his fractious centre-right party Forza Italia united as younger rivals have emerged to challenge his leadership.
Reporting by Danilo Masoni and James Mackenzie; Additional reporting from Simon Webb in Bangkok; Editing by Clelia Oziel