8 May 2022 in Finance


Rumours were already circulating in the autumn of 2021[1], but in these days the news has become official: AC Milan has changed ownership, and passed into the hands of Investcorp, the Bahraini investment management company[2]. After the long Berlusconi epic[3], after the Chinese parenthesis of the bankrupt Yonghong Li (who paid more than 700 million euros and lost almost all of them)[4], which ended with the takeover by the American fund Elliott, now begins a new chapter. Elliott restored AC Milan, but he never wanted to keep it: he inherited it from the Chinese, who had not paid 370 million euros in debt to the American fund[5]. And while Elliott and Investcorp are working on the closure of the contract, Li starts a lawsuit for compensation for about 320 million euros[6].

No surprise. The purpose of Eliott Management, like that of any hedge fund, is to enhance the value of an asset and then resell it at a higher price: “Elliott is fully committed to bringing AC Milan back to the top of European football, leveraging on the principles of financial stability and proper supervision, now already firmly in place. Elliott has financed AC Milan’s relaunch path in recent years, with over €600 million invested in the club[7]. A statement that corresponds to the truth. Elliott has fixed the budget, improved the team, is going to build a new stadium, and in less than four years has picked up a club of great tradition from the ashes and brought it back to be a reality of Italian and international football[8].

Now the time is ripe for a new change of ownership[9]: AC Milan will be the first Italian football club to be owned by a Middle Eastern player. There is no cultural shock: nine of the 20 most important Italian clubs are already in foreign hands[10], and the Bahraini fund is offering a staggering sum: 1.18 billion dollars[11] for a majority stake, thus leaving Elliott in the shareholding structure together with the partners who have supported it in the operation so far: Bank of America, Merril Lynch and JP Morgan[12]. With the money gained from the sale of Milan[13], Elliott is considering the possibility of entering the tourism sector, buying the Californian company Mondee[14].

Who is behind Investcorp?

Paul Singer, founder and CEO of Elliott Management Corporation[15]

The new owner of AC Milan, Investcorp Holdings BSC of Manama (Bahrain), was founded by Nemir A. Kirdar (Iraqi, one of the most important private equity investors in the Middle East, who died in June 2020 at the age of 83 years[16]) and has been led since 2015 by Mohammed Mahfoodh Alardhi[17], a retired deputy marshal of the Oman Air Force[18]. The company has a presence in 13 cities, including New York, Los Angeles, London, Singapore, Delhi, Beijing, Doha, Mumbai and Abu Dhabi[19].

Founded 40 years ago to allow the wealthiest families in the Persian Gulf to invest in the United States and Europe, Investcorp has spent a lot of money acquiring Western superstars such as Tiffany’s, Gucci and Saks[20]. But who are these tycoons? It is very difficult to say, because Investcorp hides its shareholders in a network of companies controlled by a holding company in the Cayman Islands, away from the prying eyes of those who demand transparency in the financial markets[21]. The board of directors includes representatives of the royal families of Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar[22]. One thing is certain: as of March 2017, the main shareholder of Investcorp (20%)[23], is the Mubadala Group of Abu Dhabi[24].

Mubadala was founded in 2002 and, little by little, has become one of the most important industries in the entire Persian Gulf[25]. It is led by the strong man of the United Arab Emirates government, Mohammed biz Zayed Al-Nahyan[26], who holds the position of Minister of Defence of Abu Dhabi and Chief of Staff of the Air Force of the Emirates[27], and also controls EDGE Group and ADNOC (Abu Dhabi National Oil Company): in short, he is the owner of the largest Arab military industry and one of the most important oil companies[28]. He is the person who manages confidential diplomatic relations[29], coordinates the secret police and various mercenary organisations, directs the strategy of cyber warfare companies, is the world’s largest arms broker and is one of the main sponsors of Donald Trump and the American extreme right-wing supremacists[30]. And this comes as a shock, especially to those who, today’s old-timers, remember criticising Silvio Berlusconi because he was suspected of corruption…

Intercontinental missile built and sold by EDGE Group[31]

Bin Zayed has brought together under the Mubadala umbrella all the real estate, military, high-tech, chemical and aerospace industries of his country[32], and is preparing the launch of the second UAE satellite, which will be in space from 2023[33]. In order to increase his political influence, Mohammed Bin Zayed, with the EDGE group[34], has invested a billion Euros in the French state investment fund LAC1, which owns that country’s public debt[35]. In other countries, such as Italy, he weaves political relationships by offering astonishing fees to parliamentarians who visit Abu Dhabi and speak at international conferences – like Matteo Renzi[36]. And he sells arms to all of them, and does so successfully, as explained by his faithful collaborator Faisal Al-Bannai, who in just two years has raised the military turnover to 5 billion dollars a year and states that ‘a dramatic increase‘ in turnover is expected[37].

Al-Bannai has his own systems. It has bought one of the most advanced hacking systems in the world, DarkMatter, from the American secret service (NSA), which is used to spy, monitor, track, intercept political opponents, political leaders of other nations, journalists, artists, anyone[38]. The team members, almost all of them former US intelligence agents, quit after a few months, frightened by what EDGE Group and Mubadala were doing with the software[39]: “They used a cutting-edge tool called Karma, allowing them to break into iPhones around the world through a security flaw to steal emails, locations, text messages and photographs. Karma made it all too easy. Their target didn’t even need to click on any links or download a virus. In 2016 and 2017 it would be used again and again on hundreds of targets around the world, including the governments of Qatar, Yemen, Iran and Turkey[40]. And the company’s main client can you guess who it is? That’s right, it’s the government of the United Arab Emirates[41].

But that’s not enough: despite the stories of DarkMatter’s first innocent victims being made public[42], in April 2020 Investcorp buys Germany’s Avira Holding – a name you may know, because it is one of the most popular antivirus systems sold alongside computers and “mobile devices” in Europe[43] – for $180 million[44]. The press reacts with concern[45]. In December 2020, Avira is sold to NortonLifeLock for 360 million dollars[46]. This is not Investcorp’s only purchase in the high-tech world: its portfolio already includes: a) Ubisense’s SmartSpace, the enterprise software and real-time location solutions platform; b) Softgarden, a provider of human resources software; c) Calligo, a cloud solutions company; d) Ageras, an online marketplace that connects small and medium-sized industries with professional service providers; e) Impero, an online school safety provider; f) Contentserv, a provider of product information management solutions[47].

Why sport now, and why Milan? Investcorp is not a national sovereign wealth fund and wants to compete with the sheiks who already have their own clubs (the Al Nahyan family, for example, already owns Manchester City[48]), because sport generates notoriety, opens the door to politics, and bypasses the limits of geopolitical and diplomatic tensions[49]. Last September, in an interview with Bloomberg, the president Mohammed Alardhi explained that the objective of the fund is to manage 100 billion dollars in assets (there are currently 41.2 in the portfolio), not only in the real estate and military fields, but also through acquisitions in the sports sector[50]. For example, just under two years ago Investcorp bought 20% of Paris FC, which is currently in the second division.

Since 1996 Investcorp has acquired some 925 properties in Europe, the United States and India for a total value of more than $21 billion[51]. Since launching its European real estate business in 2017, Investcorp has invested approximately €1.1 billion in 80 properties in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Belgium[52]. As of 30 June 2021, Investcorp managed $7.5 billion of real estate assets[53]. In October 2021, Investcorp bought the Milan headquarters of Kering (18,000 square metres), the luxury goods multinational that owns Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Bottega Veneta, for EUR 70 million[54]. In Rome, for 128 million euro, it got its hands on a housing complex (32,200 square metres and 174 parking spaces) in Via Paolo di Dono 44 – the offices of IFAD, the United Nations agency that fights hunger in developing countries[55]. The list of Italian assets continues: a) Cloudcare (digital sales)[56]; b) Corneliani (51%), a luxury men’s fashion brand[57]; c) Vivaticket (integrated ticketing software)[58]; d) HWG Srl, a Verona-based company in the cyber security sector[59].

Returning to Milan

Of course, the fans don’t care about any of this. Wherever they are in the world, as long as the team wins – as we see in other football leagues, especially in the English one, where the presence of ‘uncomfortable’ owners has transformed the Premier League into a league of world excellence. The Italian championship, without foreign tycoons, would be in an even more precarious situation than it is now – given that we have not won the Champions League for over ten years, and to find an Italian victory in the Europa League you have to go back to the 1998 UEFA Cup.

There is no need to play the moralist. But we must be careful, because bringing into the house a tenant who, by trade, sells weapons and instruments for controlling individual privacy, and manages death squads made up of mercenaries and ex-terrorists, can have repercussions in the long run – as demonstrated by the fact that today Germany cannot oppose Putin’s Russia, because Gazprom has bought not only a football team (the Schalke 04), but also industrial, financial and real estate holdings worth billions of euros. And at its head it has a former social-democratic chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, who has now become a very important figure. More important than Renzi, the Al Nahyan’s friend, will be in the future, but in certain matters caution is never too much.


[1] https://www.acmilaninfo.com/rossoneri-ceo-confirms-elliott-will-sell-ac-milan/

[2] https://www.investcorp.com/who-we-are/history/ ; https://www.investcorp.com/who-we-are/

[3] https://www.guerinsportivo.it/news/calcio/2021/09/29-4755774/il_milan_di_berlusconi

[4] https://www.dailymilan.it/milan-cinese/ ; https://www.calcioefinanza.it/2018/07/11/quanti-soldi-ha-perso-yonghong-li-con-il-milan/

[5] https://www.dailymilan.it/milan-cinese/ ; https://www.calcioefinanza.it/2018/07/10/milan-inizia-l-era-elliott-yonghong-li-prova-ridurre-le-perdite/

[6] https://www.corrieredellosport.it/news/calcio/serie-a/milan/2022/04/28-92266799/_milan_riecco_yonghong_li_causa_milionaria_al_fondo_elliott_

[7] https://www.calcioefinanza.it/2020/11/17/elliott-proprietario-milan-report-comunicato/

[8] https://www.milanlive.it/2022/02/14/milan-la-lezione-di-elliott-la-gazzetta-spiega-il-successo-rossonero/

[9] https://www.eurosport.it/calcio/serie-a/2021-2022/perche-investcorp-e-il-bahrain-ha-deciso-di-puntare-sul-milan-le-domande-sulla-trattativa-del-moment_sto8896302/story.shtml

[10] https://www.rainews.it/articoli/2022/04/entro-venerdi-la-vendita-del-milan-al-fondo-del-bahrain-investcorp-3ba2a91f-3024-42a3-85ad-cff269be1445.html

[11] https://www.vocidicitta.it/voci-di-sport/il-milan-e-di-investcorp-obiettivi-e-strategie-del-fondo-del-bahrain/

[12] https://www.eurosport.it/calcio/serie-a/2021-2022/milan-in-vendita-trattativa-con-investcorp-fondo-elliott-potrebbe-rimanere-con-una-quota-di-minoranz_sto8892860/story.shtml ; https://www.calcioefinanza.it/2022/04/26/milan-data-cessione-investcorp/

[13] https://www.calcioefinanza.it/2022/01/17/elliott-ricavi-guadagni-2021-miliardi/

[14] https://www.calcioefinanza.it/2022/04/24/elliott-investimento-mondee-spac/

[15] https://www.calcioefinanza.it/2022/04/24/elliott-investimento-mondee-spac/

[16] https://www.fnlondon.com/articles/investcorp-founder-nemir-kirdar-passes-away-at-83-20200609

[17] https://www.investcorp.com/people/mohammed-alardhi/

[18] Corporate Governance Report, fiscal year 2021: https://www.investcorp.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Investcorp_2021_Corporate-Governace-Report.pdf , p.2

[19] https://www.investcorp.com/contact-us/

[20] https://www.forbes.com/global/2003/0331/026.html?sh=3667e9391e3e

[21] https://www.investcorp.com/governance/

[22] Corporate Governance Report, 2021: https://www.investcorp.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Investcorp_2021_Corporate-Governace-Report.pdf

[23] Annual Report 2021: https://www.investcorp.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Investcorp_Annual-Report-2021.pdf p-84

[24] https://www.mubadala.com/en/news/investcorp-strengthens-shareholder-base-agreed-investment-mubadala-development-company ; https://www.reuters.com/article/investcorp-bank-mubadala/uaes-mubadala-completes-deal-to-take-20-pct-stake-in-investcorps-parent-idUSL5N1GP049

[25] https://www.mubadala.com/en/who-we-are/our-history

[26] https://ibiworld.eu/2022/03/28/emirati-il-grande-paradiso-dei-criminali/ ; https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/uae-leader-returns-after-lengthy-unexplained-absence ; https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/02/world/middleeast/crown-prince-mohammed-bin-zayed.html?module=inline

[27] https://www.mubadala.com/en/who-we-are/board-of-directors/his-highness-sheikh-mohamed-bin-zayed-al-nahyan

[28] https://gulfbusiness.com/uaes-adnoc-appoints-new-managing-director-restructures-to-form-executive-board-of-directors/

[29] https://ibiworld.eu/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Le-Lobby-Anti-Qatar-1.pdf

[30] https://ibiworld.eu/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Le-Lobby-Anti-Qatar-1.pdf

[31] https://edgegroup.ae/

[32] https://www.mubadala.com/en/who-we-are/corporate-structure

[33] https://www.mubadala.com/en/who-we-are/our-history ; https://www.wam.ae/en/details/1395303041684

[34] https://www.edrmagazine.eu/edge-ceo-looking-at-expanding-opportunities-and-increasing-turnover

[35] https://www.agefi.fr/financements-marches/actualites/quotidien/20200224/fonds-d-abu-dhabi-investit-milliard-d-euros-dans-293982 ; https://www.arabianbusiness.com/banking-finance/441096-uaes-mubadala-commits-to-invest-in-10bn-euro-french-fund ; https://www.reuters.com/article/mubadala-france-investment-idUSL8N1NF5SS

[36] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0PVs5tY4no ; http://wam.ae/en/details/1395300001690 ; https://www.thenationalnews.com/uae/government/sheikh-mohammed-bin-zayed-meets-italian-pm-1.57337 ; https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/hh-sheikh-mohamed-bin-zayed-al-nahyan-pm-matteo-renzi-umberto-trulli/

[37] https://www.edrmagazine.eu/edge-ceo-looking-at-expanding-opportunities-and-increasing-turnover ; https://www.arabianaerospace.aero/leading-edge.html

[38] https://emiratesleaks.com/emirates-state-espionage-reality-enshrined-series-facts-scandals/?lang=en

[39] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-spying-raven-specialreport/special-report-inside-the-uaes-secret-hacking-team-of-u-s-mercenaries-idUSKCN1PO19O ; https://www.trtworld.com/magazine/the-uae-s-covert-web-of-spies-hackers-and-mercenary-death-squads-23805

[40]They used a cutting-edge tool called Karma, letting them break into iPhones around the world through a security flaw to steal emails, locations, text messages and photographs, said five former employees. Karma made it all too easy. Their target didn’t even need to click on any link or download a virus. In 2016 and 2017 it would be used again and again on hundreds of targets across the world, including the governments of Qatar, Yemen, Iran and Turkey”, see more: https://www.trtworld.com/magazine/the-uae-s-covert-web-of-spies-hackers-and-mercenary-death-squads-23805

[41] https://www.timesaerospace.aero/features/defence/leading-edge

[42] https://ibiworld.eu/2020/07/21/il-gigante-tra-gli-hacker-militari-compra-avira/

[43] https://www.nortonlifelock.com/us/en/corporate-profile/ ; https://www.investcorp.com/investcorp-announces-the-sale-of-leading-cybersecurity-provider-avira-to-nortonlifelock-for-us-360-million/

[44] https://www.arabianbusiness.com/industries/technology/444852-baharins-investcorp-acquires-german-cybersecurity-company-firm-avira ; DALLA FANTASCIENZA ALL’INCUBO: LO SPYWARE DI REGIME PER IL CONTROLLO TOTALE | IBI World Italia

[45] https://ibiworld.eu/2020/07/21/il-gigante-tra-gli-hacker-militari-compra-avira/

[46] https://www.investcorp.com/investcorp-announces-the-sale-of-leading-cybersecurity-provider-avira-to-nortonlifelock-for-us-360-million/

[47] https://www.arabianbusiness.com/industries/technology/444852-baharins-investcorp-acquires-german-cybersecurity-company-firm-avira ; https://www.investcorp.com/investcorp-acquires-germanys-leading-cybersecurity-company-avira/

[48] https://ibiworld.eu/2021/05/30/quando-la-champions-league-la-perde-abu-dhabi/

[49] https://www.eurosport.it/calcio/serie-a/2021-2022/perche-investcorp-e-il-bahrain-ha-deciso-di-puntare-sul-milan-le-domande-sulla-trattativa-del-moment_sto8896302/story.shtml

[50] https://www.eurosport.it/calcio/serie-a/2021-2022/perche-investcorp-e-il-bahrain-ha-deciso-di-puntare-sul-milan-le-domande-sulla-trattativa-del-moment_sto8896302/story.shtml

[51] Investcorp Annual Report 2021: https://www.investcorp.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Investcorp_Annual-Report-2021.pdf p. 6

[52] https://realassets.ipe.com/news/investcorp-acquires-fully-let-office-building-in-rome-for-128m/10058738.article

[53] Investcorp Annual Report 2021: https://www.investcorp.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Investcorp_Annual-Report-2021.pdf p. 6

[54] https://bebeez.it/real-estate-2/investcorp-attraverso-un-fondo-gestito-da-castello-sgr-si-compra-la-sede-di-kering-a-milano-per-70-mln-euro/

[55] https://bebeez.it/real-estate-2/investcorp-compra-gli-uffici-romani-dellifad-da-prelios-il-deal-da-128-mln-di-euro-porta-a-11-mld-euro-il-portafoglio-immobiliare-europeo/ ; https://realassets.ipe.com/news/investcorp-acquires-fully-let-office-building-in-rome-for-128m/10058738.article

[56] https://bebeez.it/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Investcorp-acquisisce-CloudCare-1.pdf

[57] https://it.fashionnetwork.com/news/A-investcorp-il-51-di-corneliani-in-arrivo-nuovo-ceo,705765.html ; https://bebeez.it/crisi-rilanci/investcorp-e-il-mise-si-aggiudicano-in-asta-il-ramo-dazienda-di-corneliani-per-oltre-172-mln-euro-appuntamento-con-i-creditori-a-marzo-2022/

[58] https://www.investcorp.com/investcorp-announces-acquisition-of-vivaticket/

[59] https://blog.hwg.it/investcorp-completa-lacquisizione-di-hwg ; https://www.investcorp.com/investcorp-acquires-italys-leading-cybersecurity-company-hwg/

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