Media mogul and former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has confirmed that he has sold AC Milan, the iconic Serie A soccer club that he has controlled for nearly three decades.
He said that he had sold his shares to a group “with involvement of the Chinese state.”
The consortium is believed to be headed by Robin Li, founder and chairman of Baidu, China’s leading search engine provider. That was neither confirmed nor denied by Berlusconi, who spoke to Italian media on Tuesday after leaving the hospital following heart surgery.
Baidu, which is listed in New York, has not made any comment.
“I’ve sold AC Milan to a group that can relaunch them and bring them back to the top in Italy, Europe and the world,” Berlusconi said.
Berlusconi reportedly explained that he had required the new backers to invest at least $440 million (Euros 400 million) in the club over the next two years.
The deal is expected to be finalised and officially announced next week. Berlusconi is believed to be selling off an 80 percent stake in the club.
Baidu — which is also rumored to be among the frontrunners to buy England’s Wolverhampton Wanderers — has recently been expanding its investments in sports. It launched a new soccer portal in May in a joint venture with the sports data and content firm Perform Group.
It is a star of the private sector, but may have Chinese state blessing for its soccer push. The Chinese government has called for a massive investment in the sport over the next 20 years and for a huge improvement in the national team’s performance.
The consortium would become one of several leading Chinese groups to take growing positions in European soccer. Dalian Wanda has a stake in Spain’s Atletico Madrid, while China Media Capital has a significant holding in the leading English team Manchester City.
Nick Vivarelli in Rome contributed to this report