St Andrews: Sale Complete?

Birmingham City Stadium Ltd confirmed a raft of changes to Companies House yesterday which sees the exit of former Blues CEO Ren Xuandong as a director along with Edward Zheng Gannan. More importantly, Vong Pech and Kang Ming-Ming were newly appointed as directors in a move which would seem to confirm the sale of the St Andrew’s by Birmingham Sports Holdings is complete.

St Andrew's taken 26 December 2018

This turnaround was to be expected ever since BSH announced that they were selling their 75% chunk of the stadium company to Kang Ming-Ming’s Achiever Global Group.

While we have no official confirmation that sale has gone through, the appointment of Ms Kang to the board at BCSL would seem to confirm that it’s only a matter of paperwork being filed.

Who are these people again?

Vong Pech is a name that Blues fans should know. The Cambodian businessman’s purchase of 21.64% of Birmingham City plc means that he owns the largest chunk of the club now. He owns 25% of Birmingham City Stadium Ltd, which owns and operates St Andrew’s.

However, because the ownership of the club is so complex it’s not quite as simple as saying Vong Pech is the largest shareholder. He owns a stakes both in Birmingham City plc (the UK parent company) and BSH (the HK parent company) and the combination of those give him the most control.

While we know from various filings that Vong Pech owns these stakes, we don’t know that much about Vong Pech himself other than he has stakes in a lot of Cambodian companies.

Other than Blues, Vong Pech owns stakes in the sole Liquid Natural Gas supplier to Cambodia (Cambodian Natural Gas Corp), a bank (Asia-Pacific Development Bank) as well as various real estate companies.

Without knowing much about him, it’s difficult to understand his motivation for investing in Blues. I’ve not seen an interview with Vong Pech online about anything, and the few email addresses I’ve found that potentially go to him have not responded to my attempts to make contact.

Back in April, BSH confirmed that Kang Ming-Ming was to buy the remaining 75% of the stadium company that was still in BSH ownership. There was very little information about her or her company Achiever Global Group Ltd online, and it took several hours of research for me to nail down anything that I thought might be right.

As I said in my piece back then, I believed I found Ms Kang as a director of a company in Hong Kong; and since then the small bits of detail I’ve picked up from other filings would seem to confirm what I found.

An obvious question fans had when this happened was what Ms Kang’s plans were for St Andrew’s and if she was going to pump money into the ground.

Judging by the address for her I found at the HK Company Registry, it looks unlikely as the home of a mega rich property developer. Of course, the address given could be a fake one but in the absence of information we can only go by the tiny scraps we can find online.

I did my best to make contact with her as part of some work I did for the Birmingham Mail, and again I got no response.

What’s the future for St Andrew’s?

This is a question I wish I knew the answer to. The truth is, like everything connected with the ownership there is obfuscation and opacity which makes it very hard to understand any real intentions.

The only thing I’ve managed to do in recent times is to connect both Vong Pech and Kang Ming-Ming to Wang Yaohui (aka the elusive Mr King), which in turn would suggest that this has been done to bring St Andrew’s under the complete control of him.

However, Wang would never be able to buy the stadium company in his own name, even via a British Virgin Islands company. Rules were introduced here in England and Wales to force companies to name the person who is in overall control, even if they own it via an offshore entity. This is why I think it’s been done via Vong Pech and Kang Ming-Ming instead.

The sale of the stadium company to companies outside of BSH only complicates ownership matters too.

When the club and stadium were owned solely by BSH, it meant that there were various stock exchange rules in place which governed how the club could be sold. While it’s true that the actual sale in itself was impossible due to the intertwining of BSH and BCFC, there was at least a transparent-ish mechanism in place so we could understand how it could take place.

Now the stadium (along with a chunk of the club) is owned directly by British Virgin Island investment vehicles, that transparency is no longer there. The ownership of the club has been deliberately obfuscated, which in turn makes it harder for any outsider to find out who to even speak to if they did wish to buy the club, let alone make the purchase.

That difficulty only leads me to the logical conclusion that the impending completion of the sale of the stadium company is further proof that Blues ain’t for sale – and that we’re on Mr King’s wild ride for a while longer.