Football: Chinese firm swoops for Australian club Newcastle Jets for reported $5.5 million

SYDNEY (AFP) - Chinese high-tech company Ledman Group was on Tuesday unveiled as the new owner of Australian team Newcastle Jets, with millionaire chairman Martin Lee saying he is excited by the club's potential.

The Jets have been under the stewardship of Football Federation Australia since May last year when the body seized the team licence from mining tycoon Nathan Tinkler amid financial problems.

They become just the latest in a string of footballing investments by cashed-up Chinese businesses, including last week's takeover of Italian giants Inter Milan.

Ledman Group is also the official title sponsor of Portugal's second division, where it courted controversy by attempting to force the top 10 clubs to field at least one Chinese player, before abandoning the plan.

FFA chairman Steven Lowy hailed Ledman's investment as another significant step in Australian football's engagement with Asia.

"In the decade since joining the Asian Football Confederation, Australia has diligently developed important connections across the spectrum, including the sporting, political, cultural, administrative and development spheres," he said.

"The investment by Ledman shows those links have delivered a dynamic relationship built on trust and mutually beneficial activities.

"Ledman's move is a signpost towards our future in the fastest growing football region in the world."

No price was put on the sale, although reports in Australia said it was around A$5.5 million (S$5.5 million) for the club which is about 160km north of Sydney.

"We see a bright future for football across Asia and the Hyundai A-League is at the forefront as one of the top professional leagues in the region," said Lee, who also owns Chinese lower-tier club Shenzhen Renren FC.

"The investment aligns with Ledman's activities in several sectors of the sports industry and I'm excited by the potential of the club."

His company Ledman is a high-tech LED signage manufacturer and integrated sports business headquartered in Shenzhen. It is also a partner of the Chinese Super League.

FFA stripped Australian coal baron Tinkler of his licence to run the Jets after he put it into voluntary administration following a failure to meet outstanding debts.

The FFA move came barely 30 minutes after Tinkler said the team were insolvent and that Scottish side Dundee United were ready to buy it.

Since January last year, Chinese investors have bought into or taken over a string of clubs around the world including Spain's Atletico Madrid and Espanyol, England's Manchester City, the Czech Republic's Slavia Prague and France's Nice.