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By Elisa Anzolin and Elvira Pollina
MILAN (Reuters) -Italian champions Inter Milan are close to securing a 275 million euro ($336 million) deal to help their finances and hand a minority stake to U.S. investment firm Oaktree Capital Group, two sources close to the matter said on Wednesday.
Inter, crowned Serie A champions this month for the first time in 11 years, are suffering like rivals due to the hit from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the club's Chinese owners had been discussing a deal for months to shore up their finances.
The lifeline loan would be granted to Great Horizon Sarl, the Luxembourg-based vehicle through which the Chinese retail giant Suning controls the club, and Inter Milan shares would be pledged to Oaktree as loan collateral, the sources said.
As part of the deal, Oaktree would get a 31% stake currently held by LionRock Capital, a Hong Kong-based investment firm, and at least one place on the club's board, the two sources said.
A third source said Tom Pitts, LionRock's head of Europe, would step down from Inter Milan's board of directors.
Oaktree is also one of the main holders of a 375 million euro bond issued by Inter Milan's media unit expiring in 2022, two sources added.
Chinese retail giant Suning, which has owned Inter Milan since 2016, would retain control with its 68.5% holding.
The deal could be announced as early as Wednesday, one source added.
Oaktree, Lionrock and Suning all declined to comment.
Inter Milan were one of the three Italian founding members, alongside Juventus and AC Milan, of the European Super League, a breakaway project which collapsed days after its announcement.
Inter are facing a drop in revenues due to the coronavirus pandemic, as matches are played in empty stadiums and companies cut sponsorship budgets. New spending restrictions on soccer clubs imposed by Chinese authorities further complicate matters.
Inter Milan CEO Giuseppe Marotta last week said the Italian club must reduce its wage bill to keep its business sustainable in the face of the financial difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
($1 = 0.8194 euros)
(Reporting by Elisa Anzolin and Elvira Pollina, writing by Maria Pia Quaglia; editing by Valentina Za, Keith Weir and Ed Osmond)