Football: S'pore-based BN Group's bid for Newcastle in doubt as owner Mike Ashley loses patience, says report

SINGAPORE – After straying offside with their questionable marketing material, Bellagraph Nova (BN) Group’s ill-fated bid to take over Newcastle United Football Club (NUFC) looks likely to end in defeat.

On Saturday (Aug 29), Newcastle-based newspaper The Chronicle carried a report with the headline “Mike Ashley ready to pull the plug on two bidders and make fresh search for investment this autumn”.

It said the Premier League club “is still up for sale but Mike Ashley has lost patience with two groups who say they want to buy NUFC”.

It is believed that BN Group, co-founded by Singaporean entrepreneurs and cousins Terence Loh and Nelson Loh, has not increased their initial offer of £280 million (S$508 million), with the proposal failing to get beyond Newcastle owner Ashley’s legal team.

The other bid is from American TV mogul Henry Mauriss, who has not followed up on his verbal agreement to buy the Magpies for £350 million after holding discussions with Ashley and his close aide Chris Ronnie earlier this year.

Previously, Ashley had agreed to a £300 million bid by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which collapsed after the group declined to take up the Premier League’s offer of independent arbitration to decide who would own the club.

The Chronicle cited sources close to the BN Group, who claimed it is “trying to get on with their business quietly and are desperate to adhere to Ashley’s wish to keep developments out of the press”, and that negotiations will continue via the respective legal teams, although Ashley is still said to favour a resuscitation of the Saudis’ bid.

An analyst, who declined to be named, told The Straits Times on Monday (Aug 31): “I have not heard of the BN Group or the Lohs before this saga, and I believe many haven’t as well, which begs the question how can there be internationally successful Singaporean businessmen out there buying a prominent football team and so few people in Singapore have heard of them?

“The group’s reported bid was £280 million, when Mike Ashley already had and accepted a £300 million offer. Why bid lower than that agreed price? Maybe it is a good way to get publicity without having to buy?”

Since announcing on Aug 15 that it was “at an advanced stage of negotiations” with their bid, controversy and uncertainty have shrouded BN Group and its co-founders, which also include Ms Evangeline Shen, a Chinese lawyer and jewellery merchant.

On Aug 22, Reuters reported BN Group head of global marketing and investor relations Nereides Antonio Giamundo de Bourbon admitting that some publicity photos of the co-founders with former United States president Barack Obama had been doctored.

ST checks also uncovered a pattern of outlandish and questionable claims in the interviews, press releases and social media accounts of the founders. These range from exaggerations to misinformation.

The group has either retracted or deleted press releases that were online, and also locked their website and Instagram account.

British sports journalist Liam Kennedy, who first broke the story of the bid in Tyneside newspaper Shields Gazette, told ST he was already sceptical at the start, and felt the deal would not go through.

He said: “There is a real air of unprofessionalism about the way they’ve gone about things, even going as far to send out a statement with the contact details of each one of the investors detailed in it. This is so far removed from usual practice.

“Newcastle United fans want change – they’re desperate for it – but it has to be for the better. And there is a sense this BNG bid could be a recipe for disaster.

“Mike Ashley is not even entertaining it – and that speaks volumes, given he is so desperate to sell the football club.”

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