Russian Billionaire closing on take over  

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

LONDON (AP) - Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov moved closer to a possible takeover of Arsenal on Monday when his investment group increased its stake in the Premier League club to more than 25 percent.

Red and White Holdings, which initially bought shares in the north London club two years ago from former vice chairman David Dein, was already the biggest shareholder before announcing that it now had a stake "in excess" of a quarter.

Red and White Holdings, which has Dein as its chairman, can launch a formal takeover bid if it owns 30 percent of the issued shares in the club, which remains one of the most prestigious in the Premier League despite not winning a trophy since the 2005 FA Cup.

Investors including American businessman Stan Kroenke, the owner of the NBA's Denver Nuggets, the NHL's Colorado Avalanche and the Colorado Rapids of Major League Soccer, and who possesses 12.4 percent of Arsenal, agreed last year not to sell to Usmanov. A lockdown agreement means that none of the investors can sell their stake until April at the earliest.

But Nina Bracewell-Smith was forced off the board in December, freeing her 15.9 percent holding from the agreement.

"We are pleased to have now secured over a quarter of the shares of Arsenal," Red and White Holdings said in a statement. "We are committed, long-term investors and supporters of the club and are comfortable that we are now in a protected position."

Arsenal is lauded as one of the best run and potentially profitable clubs in the Premier League, but is currently fifth in the standings.

The possibility of missing out on next season's lucrative Champions League apparently prompted manager Arsene Wenger to abandon his policy of relying on young players to break the club's transfer record in January by hiring Russia playmaker Andrei Arshavin for about 15 million pounds ($21.3 million; €16.6 million).

The move should have boosted the club's profile across Europe, particularly in Russia, and was apparently endorsed by Usmanov.

"We also welcome the strengthening of the squad and look forward to a successful conclusion to the season," Red and White Holdings said.


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