August 6, 2010 11:48 pm

Huang a front-runner despite uncertain backing

Chinese businessman Kenny Huang Jianhua has been seen as the front-runner to buy the Liverpool Football Club, reportedly with backing from China’s $332bn sovereign wealth fund.

But far from being a billionaire tycoon with keys to the Chinese Treasury, Mr Huang’s only formal roles are as an investor in a fledgling minor league Chinese basketball team, a Chinese basketball magazine and two sports marketing companies – one in Beijing and one in the US, neither of which has more than 15 employees.

China Investment Corp, the country’s main sovereign wealth fund, told the FT it has never heard of Mr Huang or about the bid for Liverpool, although people close to Mr Huang had earlier claimed that a “sovereign wealth fund from the Far East” was backing his bid.

At least one of the more extravagant claims made about Mr Huang – that he bid for and used to own part of the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA basketball team – is false, according to the NBA.

It has been widely reported in Chinese and western media that Mr Huang owns up to 15 per cent of the Cleveland Cavaliers and in numerous published and broadcast interviews Mr Huang has not denied this.

Through a spokesperson he told the FT on Friday that he is “no longer an owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers”.

“Mr Huang has never had an ownership interest in the Cleveland Cavaliers or any other NBA team nor was he ever affiliated with an owner of an interest in an NBA team,” the NBA told the Financial Times.

Mr Huang set up QSL Sports Limited last year. QSL has a small office in Beijing and employs about 15 people there. QSL employees and the company’s website claimed to have an office at a prestigious central Hong Kong location but that office does not exist and the building’s managers said they have no record of the company renting an office there.

After the FT raised questions about the office address and other assertions made by Mr Huang, QSL’s website was taken down and replaced with a sign saying “Site under maintenance”.

In May this year, QSL announced that Yang Guang, a portfolio manager and research analyst at fund management company Franklin Templeton, will “become a partner” of Mr Huang to jointly promote QSL’s investment in China’s nascent minor basketball league and help develop little league baseball in China, where the sport is virtually unknown.

Mr Yang’s official Franklin Templeton biography says he has research responsibility for the European utilities and medical technology/supplies sectors.

Franklin Templeton in New York said: “Franklin Templeton has no involvement in the Liverpool FC bid and Yang Guang has also stated that he has no involvement.”

Mr Huang says he was the first Chinese college graduate from mainland China to work at the New York Stock Exchange, where he was employed in the public relations department in 1988.

When asked what Mr Huang has been doing since then, his Hong Kong-based spokesperson said he was “in Wall Street doing private wealth management” for “some billionaires in the US.”

Mr Huang had been associated with Rocket Capital, a fund set up by Leslie Alexander, owner of the Houston Rockets NBA basketball team.

The Rockets team said it was unable to confirm or deny Mr Huang’s involvement with the team and Mr Huang’s spokesperson in Hong Kong said she did not know whether Mr Huang was still working with Mr Alexander or Rocket Capital.

In one of his online biographies Mr Huang says he “has become one of the most accomplished business executives partnering with some of the largest state-owned enterprises in China.”

But three high-profile successful Beijing-based investors in the China market said they had never heard of him or any investment deals he had done until the media frenzy surrounding his claims he wants to buy Liverpool FC.

Mr Huang refused to speak directly to the FT.

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