MANCHESTER: Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is on the verge of selling Manchester City to a United Arab Emirates-based investment group after the Premier League club on Monday confirmed both parties have signed a Memorandum of Understanding.
Thaksin has been looking to sell City for several weeks after his assets were frozen as a result of corruption and fraud charges in Thailand and finally appears to have found a buyer.
Reports on Monday claimed Abu Dhabi United Group for Development and Investment (ADUG) had completed the deal. City quickly issued a statement confirming that negotiations were close to a conclusion.
In a statement, the club said: "Manchester City can confirm that a Memorandum of Understanding has been signed between the Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG) and Manchester City Football Club.
"A period of due diligence for all parties, including the FA Premier League has now been entered. A further statement will be released by the club in due course."
City executive chairman Garry Cook told the Manchester Evening News that the deal had been in the pipeline for a while.
"It is no secret we have been seeking strategic partnerships for some time but at this stage we cannot say much more for legal reasons," he said.
Thaksin took charge at City in July 2007 but his spell as owner looks to be at an end.
He had big plans for the Eastlands club but his hopes have been dashed amid legal wrangling in his own country.
The situation for Thaksin worsened further still recently when his wife, Pojaman, was sentenced to three years in prison on a variety of corruption charges, although she has since been released on bail.
Thaksin himself is facing similar charges but flew to England last month, on the day he was due to make a court appearance in Thailand.
He and his wife were due to return to their homeland in time to answer before a court in a separate property case.
Thaksin, who has always insisted the charges are politically motivated, said in a statement that he and his wife planned to stay in England "where democracy is more important".
In April, Thaksin claimed City would be a Champions League club in another year, and the apparent new owners, known as ADUG, are similarly optimistic.
Thaksin offered to resign from the board at Eastlands in August, Cook revealed at the time.
"Dr Thaksin is embarrassed about the indignity brought on all the entities - the club, the Premier League - he never intended this," he said.
"Dr Thaksin has been really open about this. He has said to me, 'If you need me to resign from the football club as a director, because it would serve the needs of the Premier League, then I'm fine with that as long as that doesn't change any other thing'."
Sulaiman al-Fahim, an ADUG board member who will represent the group on the Manchester City board, was quoted on www.arabianbusiness.com as saying: "We will release details later, but this is a great event for both the club and Abu Dhabi.
"Our goal is very simple - to make Manchester City the biggest club in the Premier League, and to begin with, to finish in the top four this season.
"We will adopt marketing plans that reflect positively on the club and the company from investments in all sectors of television marketing and purchasing of the star players, as well as development of infrastructure facilities at the club."
Fahim said ADUG will solve all the club's problems and clear any pending payments, and will comprehensively support the club by bringing in some of the best football players in the world.
The ousted Thai premier will stay on as honorary president of the club without any administrative responsibilities, according to Arabian Business.
Negotiations began three weeks ago, and were completed on Sunday night in the UAE, it said.
Abu Dhabi, the UAE's wealthiest emirate which also serves as its capital, is vying to become a cultural and sports destination in the Gulf region.