Inter president Zhang says 'stability' threatened by debt deadline

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Inter Milan president Steven Zhang said on Saturday that the Serie A champions' financial stability was being threatened by investment fund Oaktree as owners Suning scrambled to repay a debt of nearly 400 million euros.

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Simone Inzaghi's Inter team are set to be officially crowned kings of Italy following Sunday's match against Lazio after securing the league title with five matches to spare last month. But what is supposed to be a weekend of celebration has been overshadowed by the deadline for the repayment of what a source familiar with the matter told AFP was around 395 million euros to Oaktree, due on Tuesday as Monday is a bank holiday in Luxembourg.
Suning could cede control of the club if they don't make good on their debt and Zhang, who hasn't been to Italy for months and lost a court case with China Construction Bank over personal debts of 320 million euros, claimed that Oaktree had been actively obstructing negotiations. "We have been making every attempt with our partner to find an amicable resolution, including multiple paths for Oaktree to achieve full and immediate financial return," Zhang said.
"Unfortunately, our efforts to date have been exasperated by legal threats, and a lack of meaningful engagement from Oaktree. Not only has this been deeply frustrating and disappointing, such behaviour now poses potential risks to the club that could seriously jeopardise its stability." An emergency loan of 275 million euros was agreed with Oaktree three years ago as the Covid-19 pandemic ravaged the finances of clubs across Europe, said Zhang, "in order to continue our support towards Inter after over a billion of investment".
Inter posted losses of 85 million euros in 2022/23, following even heavier losses of 140 million euros and 245.6 million euros in the previous two seasons as stadiums were partially or fully closed due to the pandemic.
Suning had been reportedly close to agreeing a deal to borrow more money, some 430 million euros from another US fund Pimco, with which Oaktree were to be paid off and a series of contract renewals agreed. Those include captain and Serie A's leading scorer Lautaro Martinez, Italy midfielder Nicolo Barella and Inzaghi, who is set to extend his current deal by two years to 2027.
However that three-year loan, which would have had even higher interest than the 12.5 percent negotiated with Oaktree, is looking much less likely to be sealed than it did early last week. And the source told AFP that "there has not been a single document that has been exchanged that would see that there was a credible buyer or refinancing partner" for Inter.
The source added that it was "unlikely" that Inter would be able to fulfil its obligation to Oaktree before the Tuesday deadline. As a result Inter are increasingly likely to end up in the hands of Oaktree in a similar way to how another US fund, Elliott Management, took control of their local rivals AC Milan in 2018.
Elliott became Milan's owners when Chinese businessman Li Yonghong was unable to repay a loan he had taken out when he bought the club from the late Silvio Berlusconi's Fininvest the previous year. Inter have won seven trophies, including two Serie A titles, and reached two European finals since Suning acquired the club in 2016.