Businessmen deny Newcastle links

Johann Rupert
Rupert is reported to be the richest man in South Africa

Three South African businessmen linked with a possible £300m takeover of Newcastle have denied any interest.

Billionaire Johann Rupert told BBC Sport he had “absolutely no interest and no knowledge” of any takeover and had never met any of those involved.

Brian Joffe and Vivian Imerman also denied being part of the consortium.

Jonathan Cleland, spokesman for the anonymous consortium, said he was 80% confident of sealing a deal and had spoken to Kevin Keegan about returning.

Rupert, the executive chairman of a Swiss-owned luxury goods company, is reported to be the richest man in South Africa.

He told BBC Radio 5 Live he was bemused and amazed by the reports linking him with the Premier League club.

“I have never met Mr Cleland, never spoken to him on the phone and my secretary does not have a record of him calling,” he said.

“I haven’t spoken to any of the other parties either. I don’t know Mr Cleland, I have a preference for cricket and rugby. I don’t know anything about football and I’m not a football man.

“I think it is a bit naughty. They use your name, you deny it – it is a total joke.”

Imerman, a former owner of canned food group Del Monte who has since bought into Scottish whisky producer Whyte and Mackay, issued a statement to make his position clear.

A spokesman said: “Vivian Imerman can re-confirm that he has no involvement whatsoever with any proposed purchase of Newcastle United nor any other football club.”

Joffe, founder of investment holding firm Bidvest, joined them in dismissing the rumours.

Interim boss Joe Kinnear revealed on Thursday that as many as eight consortia have been in talks with owner Mike Ashley about buying the Magpies.

The South African group were considered to be the frontrunners – with their interest in former manager Keegan making them popular with the fans.

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Cleland, who declined to comment on Rupert’s comments, earlier confirmed he had met Keegan in Manchester on Monday but admitted there was still a lot of negotiating to do.

“He is our preferred option, but we cannot make any concrete decisions on the managerial position until negotiations on our planned takeover are further advanced,” he said.

Cleland and his partners claim to have lodged a bid for the club with investment bankers Seymour Pierce, who have been appointed by Ashley to sell it.

They and other interested parties have been asked to sign a confidentiality clause.

Keegan may be offered a 5% stake in the club in a bid to persuade him to return for a third spell at the helm.

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