Reporting from Challenges and Nice-Matin reveal that current owner of OGC Nice Chien Lee made the club take out a €22m loan in December with an alarmingly high interest rate fixed to it, to the tune of 9% with repayment required over 4 years, as the Chinese-American ownership comes under increasing scrutiny.
The current ownership continues to refuse offers for the club from English billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe, a tact that has brought fans to increasingly demand Lee’s exit, with the main ultra group la Populaire Sud claiming in a recent statement that the current owners “lack footballing ambition”.
Nice curiously in December 2018 took out a €22m loan from Luxembourg fund Thalos Investment Platform with a 9% interest rate on it. That sum corresponds exactly with the amount of money that the Chinese-American owners have put into the club since their arrival in 2016 – the three men (Chien Lee, Alex Zheng & Paul Conway) took 80% equity, with club president from 2011 to early 2019 Jean-Pierre Rivère retaining 20%. The agreement upon signing insisted that the trio of investors could not recoup their money until two years after signing, so June 2018 – but they appear to have been desperate to do so.
The problem? There was no money in the coffers – Paul Conway put forward the name Thalos Investment Platform at the end of June in 2018. Based in Luxembourg, this company is a subsidiary of Swiss group Vicenda and offers loan financing to companies in debt or markets-based trading financial institutions. Several weeks earlier, in May 2018, two Swiss media groups (Ringier & NZZ) filed a legal complaint against Thalos in a bankruptcy case relating to Swiss advertising giant Publicitas, as reported by Swiss outlet Le Temps. The claims relate to a “transfer contract” which allowed the lender to become the owner of the liabilities and the assets of the indebted company.
Despite the mystery surrounding the Luxembourg fund, OGC Nice enter into discussions with Thalos, who include a series of bizarre clauses in the loan. One source indicated that one of the clauses was that “if the club was in 14th place or lower by the 22nd match of this season, the Nice would have to repay the loan within the week. That put the club in incredible peril.”
Despite also seeking a loan with a big American bank, OGC Nice’s owners went with Thalos after several months of negotiations. A former employee at OGC Nice said: “The worst is over. With the TV rights and the sale of players, the club has largely got the capabilities to repay the loan. However, this series of events shows what the current owners’ priorities are. They would prefer to pocket money in the club than make it available for transfers for example.”
Chien Lee and co. have sought to defend themselves, with a source close to the trio of American-Chinese owners indicating to Nice-Matin: “A part of the €22m went directly into Jean-Pierre Rivère’s pocket.”
JPR – praised for his exceptional handling of the club whilst president – felt that he had to walk at the beginning of 2019 owing to disagreements with the Chinese-American owners – he wants the sale of the club to Sir Jim Ratcliffe to occur. Rivère responded: “It was an advance on the 20% of shares that I agreed to sell them in the owners pact. The price was fixed since their arrival and that sale is due to occur, dependent on certain conditions, in the two years to come.”