FFA threatens to strip Jets owner Lee of A-League licence

Newcastle Jets owner Martin Lee shakes hands with Eugene Galekovic before a match Source: Getty Images

Football Federation Australia has told absent Newcastle Jets owner Martin Lee to either start reinvesting in the club or face losing his A-League licence.

Lee, chief of the Shenzhen-based Ledman Group, effectively stopped financing the Jets last October, and CEO Lawrie McKinna has been working feverishly to get a takeover deal with a mystery western Sydney-based businessman over the line.

However, patience is wearing thin at Head Office over the club’s increasingly precarious financial position and Lee’s failure to fulfil his financial obligations to the franchise.

A well-placed source close to the FFA told The World Game: “The owner has to start investing or the licence will be taken away.

“It’s a good club... lots of potential and I don’t think there would be a problem finding a buyer.

“The main thing is, the current owner has to step up to the plate otherwise FFA might have to be ruthless.”

Lee acquired the club five years ago, taking over when failed mining magnate Nathan Tinkler was stripped of his licence after placing the Jets in voluntary administration.

Lee is due to have talks with McKinna on Monday, and the Scotsman - who has been discussing the sale of the club with various parties at Lee’s behest for the last two years - remains “confident” the deal currently on the table can be finalised by the end of this month.

“I’m still actively working on the sale and I’m in touch with FFA over what’s going on,” McKinna explained.

“I’m confident there will be a resolution. It’s taken longer than hoped and the COVID-19 pandemic is a big part of that.

“But it’s still definitely on the cards and I’m hoping the club will be back to normal very soon.

“I want everything to fall into place but sometimes things don’t go exactly according to plan.”

The proposed takeover - believed to be significantly in excess of the $5.5 million Lee paid for the club - will need to be approved by the FFA.

“FFA is all about bringing the right type of owners in,” the source added.

“The level needs to be lifted - you can’t have Martin Lees coming in and then abandoning the club.

“The goal is to have committed and well-resourced owners who want to grow teams.

“Whoever comes forward has to tick those boxes.”

Lee has invested $15 million in the Jets but his LED lighting company has been a victim of the US-China tariff trade war.

Stringent Chinese government rules regarding overseas currency transactions have, according to McKinna, also hampered his ability to adequately finance the club which has accrued operational debts of around $2 million.

Term sheets - statements of intent from both parties - remain with both sets of lawyers, according to McKinna.

“They have been tweaking things to get it right before going to the next step,” he added.

If the sale proceeds it will feature a down payment and a number of ongoing instalments paid by the buyer to Lee, who turned down a $12 million offer prior to the arrival of the coronavirus.