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Report suggests Chinese billionaire Jack Ma behind fund to purchase Inter Milan shares

Founder of Alibaba could be at the heart of Hong Kong-based fund.

Alibaba Aquires Share In Soccer Giant Evergrande
Founder and chairman of Alibaba Group Jack Ma (R) and Chairman of Evergrande Group Xu Jiayin attend a signing ceremony between Alibaba Group and Evergrande Group regarding Alibaba buying 50 percent of shares in Guangzhou Evergrande on June 5, 2014 in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province of China. Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group signed an agreement with the Evergrande Group to buy Alibaba for 1.2 billion CNY (about 191 million USD) for 50% shares of Guangzhou Evergrande, China’s most successful football club in recent years
Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images

Italian newspaper Corriere dello Sport (along with Football Italia and Tuttosport) has reported the person behind a Hong Kong fund interested in purchasing 31 percent of Inter Milan is none other than Alibaba founder Jack Ma.

As we reported earlier, an unnamed Hong Kong based investment fund is in negotiations to purchase a little more than 31 percent of the club from former owner and president Erick Thohir and International Sports Capital.

Thohir stepped down as Inter Milan president in October 2018 to make way for Steven Zhang. The controlling interest of the club is owned by Suning Group and its co-founder Zhang Jindong. Suning purchased its interest in the club in 2016.

Ma is not unfamiliar with Suning Group as Alibaba owns a 20 percent stake in Suning. Additionally, in 2018, Alibaba — along with American-based Goldman Sachs — helped Suning Sports complete a $600 million fund raise. One of the investors in the raise was Ma’s private equity fund Yunfeng Capital — one of China’s largest private equity firms — based in Hong Kong.

Jindong does own a 0.81 percent stake in Alibaba — the world’s largest retailer.

It would also not be the first foray into football for Ma and Alibaba. In 2014, Ma and Alibaba purchased a minority position in Guangzhou Evergrande, one of China’s most prolific football sides. Currently, Alibaba owns approximately 37 percent of the Chinese team.

In June 2018, Corriere Della Sera reported that it was Suning Group that was interested in purchasing Thohir’s remaining shares of the club — valued at nearly €200 million. However, the Chinese government has placed limits of how much Chinese-based companies can invest in foreign companies.

Ma announced his retirement from Alibaba in 2018 and he also started to divest himself from some of his holdings, such as Zhejiang Taobao Network Co. Ltd. That company is currently held by five members of Alibaba’s management team, according to company filings.

If it does come to pass that Ma’s equity firm does purchase Thohir’s shares, it could provide hope for Inter fans that there could be an injection of investment into the team, which last reported an €18 million loss for the last fiscal year.

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