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By ESPN Staff
Sep 4, 2006

Georgian businessman linked to West Ham

MOSCOW, Sept 4 (Reuters) - Georgian businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili, an associate of exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky, said on Monday that he knew a suitor for the English Premiership club West Ham United but he himself was not bidding.

Vedomosti business daily said Patarkatsishvili was planning to start negotiations to purchase the club in a deal it said could be worth £100 million ($190.4 million).

But Patarkatsishvili, contacted by telephone in London, told Reuters: 'Reports about my plans to buy West Ham are not true. I'm just close to people who are thinking about buying this club. I know these people for a long time.'

'Even if I wished to buy it (West Ham), I would not be able to as I own (Georgian soccer club) Dinamo (Tbilisi) and, according to FIFA rules, this would be prohibited,' he added.

He declined to say who was seeking the West Ham purchase. Asked if it was Berezovsky, he said: 'I can't tell you.'

West Ham United said on Friday it had received a takeover bid which it said was at a very early stage of discussion.

Officials at the East London club were not available for comment immediately on Monday.

Speculation of a possible takeover of West Ham comes amid concern among some football authorities over wealthy foreign investors buying into clubs across Europe which they fear could distort the European competition and the transfer market.

Football finances have come under the spotlight with the estimated £300 million lavished by Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich on Chelsea since he bought the club in 2003.

The West Ham takeover speculation also follows the club's surprise recent signing of Argentine World Cup duo Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano.

Patarkatsishvili, when asked about the signings, said: 'West Ham just rented them, they did not buy them.'

Patarkatsishvili has recently sold a leading business daily Kommersant to Russian steel tycoon Alisher Usmanov in a deal estimated by the Russian media at between $200 million and $300 million.

Kommersant was long controlled by Berezovsky, a prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin, from his exile in London. He sold it earlier this year to Patarkatsishvili.

Berezovsky was Russia's most prominent and controversial businessman in the mid and late 1990s and a Kremlin insider under Russia's first post-Soviet president, Boris Yeltsin.

He fell out with Putin soon after the president took office and fled in 2000 to London where he lives under the protection of political asylum. Russia seeks his extradition on criminal charges.