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WHERE'S OUR $1M?; EXCLUSIVE Casino's court demand to Man United's Mr Mystery .. a man of few words who's reputed to be worth pounds 20m.

Byline: JEFF EDWARDS, Chief Crime Correspondent and JAN DISLEY

HE is a property tycoon and for years has wielded financial power at Manchester United.

Beyond that, Amer Al Midani - being pursued by a Las Vegas casino over an alleged $1million debt - is a man of mystery.

He is regarded as one of the club's most secretive characters.

In fact, the number of words he uttered at the 2001 annual general meeting even formed part of a magazine quiz.

The answer? Nine - "Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Chairman, I move the motion."

According to fans, that's the most he has ever said at a shareholders' meeting - despite being a board member at Old Trafford since the 80s.

His wealth puts him in the big league, though, even by the standards of the world's richest football club.

He is the son of a millionaire Lebanese property developer, who has made his own fortune out of hotels in Spain. Al Midani, 44, a non-executive director, is said to be the third richest man on the United board with a fortune of more than pounds 20million.

Only former chairman Martin Edwards and fellow director Maurice Watkins are ahead of him, both said to be worth in excess of pounds 100million.

Al Midani ploughed in a family inheritance to capture a stake in United.

Since the club's stock market float of 1991, he has sold off some shares - at one point raising more than pounds 10million in 18 months.

He still owns 568,700 shares in the club, valued yesterday at pounds 710,000 as United announced a big rise in profits.

Al Midani, an avid soccer fan who attends most United home matches, is also keen on horse racing. He visited the Rio hotel and casino complex last year. It is one of Las Vegas's best known venues. The four-tower complex has 2,550 rooms and the best views of the city's dazzling neon strip.

The hotel's wine cellar houses one of the world's largest collections of fine and rare wines, with more than 600 vintages catering for 15 restaurants.

Rod Stewart was paid pounds 3million for performing there on Millennium Eve.

Al Midani is understood to have lost the million dollars now being sought by the Rio at the roulette tables.

The tycoon, who lives in Alderley Edge, Cheshire, wrote a cheque to cover his losses before he returned to Britain, it is thought.

But when credit controllers at the Rio tried to cash it, they were told there wasn't enough money in the account.

Follow-up letters from the Rio to try to get a settlement of the debt also failed, it is claimed.

Earlier this year, the casino instructed lawyers in New York to take action.

A bankruptcy petition was lodged with Stockport County Court and a preliminary hearing has been scheduled for April 23.

Yesterday officials at the Rio said they were "not at liberty" to discuss the debt or the attempt to recover it via the British courts.

But a senior source said: "There is an outstanding debt of over one million US dollars. It has not been settled.

"A bankruptcy petition to recover the money has been lodged at the county court in Stockport, England, and has been listed for a direction hearing to be heard next month."

Stockport County Court said: "A bankruptcy hearing naming Mr Al Midani is to be heard for direction on April 23."

A spokesman for Manchester United declined to comment, saying: "This is a personal matter."


DAZZLING: The Rio hotel-casino in Las Vegas; PUNTERS: Inside the Rio casino, where gambling goes on round-the-clock
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 27, 2002
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