Kroenke increases Arsenal stake

LONDON - U.S. sports tycoon Stan Kroenke has increased his stake in English Premier League club Arsenal to 28.3 percent and become the club's biggest shareholder. Arsenal issued a statement on Friday saying Kroenke, who joined the club's board last year, had bought 4,839 shares from members of director Richard Carr's family. He paid more than 41 million pounds for the shares having purchased them for between 8,500 and 10,500 pounds each, the club said on its website. "As a result of the acquisition, Stan Kroenke has a beneficial interest in, and controls voting rights over 17,613 ordinary shares in the company, representing 28.3 percent of the company's issued ordinary shares," the club said. The prices paid value the club at over 525 million pounds. Kroenke has leapfrogged Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov, who was the largest shareholder with about 25 percent, and British media, including the Financial Times, said the prospect of a contested takeover for the club had edged closer. The American businessman's shareholding is now close to the 30 percent threshold that would force him to make an automatic offer for the remaining shares, although he has previously said he was not interested in pursuing a full buyout. Kroenke, owner of the U.S. Colorado Rapids Major League Soccer team, had raised his stake in the north London club to 20.5 percent at the end of March by buying a third of director Daniel Fiszman's holding for 42.5 million pounds. Arsenal, who trail Manchester United 1-0 in the Champions League semi-final ahead of next week's second leg, have been at the centre of takeover speculation after Kroenke and Usmanov started building stakes. The American's increased investment was welcomed on Friday by the Arsenal Supporters' Trust (AST), whose members hold about three percent of the club's equity. "The AST were the first shareholders at Arsenal to welcome Kroenke's initial investment. We have since established a good dialogue with him and this will continue," it said in a statement on its website. "Our position is that stability and plurality in ownership is to the benefit of Arsenal. "We hope he will build relationships with all shareholders so that club has stability off the pitch which is a vital ingredient for success on it". Arsenal chairman Peter Hill-Wood said Carr would remain a director of the club.