Representatives of a major private equity firm in the Middle East were among the guests of Ken Bates during Saturday’s game between Leeds United and Wolves, the Yorkshire Evening Post can reveal.
Salem Patel and David Haigh, senior figures at Dubai-based investment company GFH Capital Limited, joined United’s chairman at Elland Road for the club’s first match of the Championship season amid on-going talks about a buy-out of Leeds.
Patel – a board member at GFH Capital – and Haigh, the firm’s deputy chief executive officer, sat close to Bates in the stadium’s East Stand throughout a 1-0 win over Wolves.
United’s opening league fixture came at the end of a week of relentless takeover negotiations between the board at Elland Road and a group of Middle Eastern investors who have been bidding to acquire the West Yorkshire club for almost three months.
The identity of the buyers has never been revealed and claims that a member of Bahrain’s ruling family – Sheikh Abdulrahman bin Mubarak Al-Khalifa – is among their number remain unconfirmed.
But it has long been suggested that the approach from the Middle East is being fronted by a financial institution in the region, of which GFH Capital is one.
On its website, the firm describes itself as “one of the Middle East’s foremost private equity investors, advisors and fund managers, providing capital and strategic support for growth companies.”
The firm says it has a “10-year track record of top-performing investments and fund management” and claims to have managed “investments of more than $8bn in over 40 companies and across 25 countries.”
Patel’s personal profile lists previous position held with Gulf Finance House, an investment bank in Bahrain, and Accenture in England.
He was educated at City University London where he gained a degree with honours in business studies.
Haigh is listed as a “Leeds United fan” by the same website and is said to have “led pioneering transactions in technology, media, telecommunication, financial services, sports and healthcare.”
Discussions over the ownership of United have continued ever since the club began speaking to potential investors shortly after the end of last season.
The Middle Eastern group, who are understood to be aiming to buy the entire 72.85 per cent stake held by Bates, began due diligence on United’s accounts in June and were thought to have agreed in principle the terms of a sale more than a month ago, but the yet is still to be finalised.
Their proposal appeared to run into trouble a fortnight ago but intense negotiations last week are believed to have revived the possibility of a full takeover at Elland Road.
A legal source told the YEP that a small number of “necessary legal matters” were still potential obstacles.
Bates confirmed on Saturday that discussions were ongoing, saying: “We are in negotiations with a party.
“We signed an exclusivity agreement to give them time to do due diligence and we’re continuing negotiations.
“We’re also bound by confidentiality so we can’t say anything and in the absence of being able to say anything, rumours abound.”
Twitter and Internet message boards have been flooded with pictures of individuals seen with Bates in the East Stand on Saturday.
Both United and GFH Capital were approached for comment about the appearance of Patel and Haigh at Elland Road but did not respond.