Cleary, Latham and Jingtian strike as China’s Suning acquires Inter Milan

Chinese firm Jingtian & Gongcheng, Italian firm Bonelli Erede Pappalardo, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and Latham & Watkins have scored key roles in the first deal by Chinese investors for control of a top European soccer club.

Chinese electronics retailer Suning Commerce Group has announced that it is buying a near 70 per cent stake in FC Internazionale Milano (Inter Milan) for €270m (£220m).

Jingtian & Gongcheng acted as the Chinese buyer’s main coordinating counsel. The Chinese firm instructed Slaughter and May best friend Bonelli to provide local law advice on the transaction.

Jingtian’s team is led by Beijing-based corporate partners Hu Zhengzheng and Gao Xiang. Bonelli’s team is headed by Milan M&A partner Stefano Micheli.

Latham & Watkins was the legal adviser to International Sports Capital, owned by Inter Milan’s president Erick Thohir, on the sale. Its team was headed by Singapore finance head Timothy Hia and included Milan corporate head Stefano Sciolla. Following the deal, International Sports Capital will become the sole minority shareholder in the club and Thohir retains his position as the club’s president.

Internazionale Holding, owned by the club’s former president and Italian oil tycoon Massimo Moratti, sought out long-standing advisor Cleary Gottlieb’s Milan partner Roberto Casiti for advice. Casiti was supported by senior associate Gerolamo da Passano. Upon completion, Internazionale Holding will cease to be a shareholder and Moratti will exit the club.

Background to the deal

Cleary Gottlieb has previously advised Internazionale Holding, including on the sell of a 70 per cent stake in the football club to three Indonesian businessmen, Erick Thohir, Rosan Roeslani and Handy Soetedjo in 2013. The deal was estimated to be worth up to £300m. Client relationship partner Casati led the firm’s team in the deal.

A team from Jones Day’s Hong Kong and Milan office led by Milan M&A partner Marco Lombardi and Hong Kong banking and finance partner Maria Pedersen advised the Indonesian investors.

Jingtian has been a long-standing advisor to Suning and has handled a large number of deals by the Chinese company in recent years, mostly in the domestic market. Both Hu and Gao are the lead client relationship partners.