Premier League probes possible Chinese-state influence in Southampton

10 April 2019

Owner Southampton
Photo: Getty Images The Premier League is looking into the Chinese ownership of Southampton. in 2017 Gao Jisheng, here with Chairman Ralph Krueger (L), took over Southampton via a company with same name as a China-based business

Southampton-owner Gao Jisheng sold shares in his Chinese company to the Chinese state.

Premier League concerned that the UK company owning Southampton is linked to Jisheng’s Chinese firm.

Nikolaj Babis Nielsen

The Premier League is looking into the ownership of Southampton, according to the Financial Times, which reports that correspondence is going on between the governing body of the top English division and The Saints. So far, the Premier League is not satisfied with the answers they have received on the matter from the Chinese-owned club, the financial paper reported.  

In 2017, Chinese national Gao Jisheng took over Southampton, buying 80 per cent of the club for approximately £210 million. Gao owns a real estate company called Lander Sports which is listed on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange. 

Back in 2017, Gao set up Lander Sports UK as the holding company for Southampton, but despite having the same name as the China-based business, the two companies were not believed to be linked. But now it seems there are growing concerns among the directors of the Premier League that the two companies are in fact somehow connected.

The concerns relate to Gao’s recent sale of shares in the Chinese company Lander Sports, as the company said in a regulatory filing last month that it would offload 29.9 per cent of shares to the Chinese state-owned Chengdu Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, thus selling enough shares in his real estate company to relinquish a controlling stake.

Concerned about state connections

After the Southampton takeover, the Premier League tightened rules over club ownership because of growing concerns about the background of foreign owners in the Premier League. The clubs are now required to inform the Premier League in advance if any changes in ownership are to be made in order to identify the buyer, their source of funds and whether they will pose a risk to the league.

And this is the main reason why the Premier League has made inquiries about more detailed information from Southampton on the sale of the stake in China-based Lander Sports, according to Financial Times, citing a Premier-League source with knowledge of its deliberations.

The source told the Financial Times that the Premier League has yet to receive clear responses to these inquiries. Gao and Southampton have previously claimed that there are no links between the two Lander Sports companies. And neither the Premier League, Lander Sports China nor Gao have responded to the Financial Times’ requests for comments.