London - Convicted rapist Ched Evans has "served his time", the owner of Oldham Athletic told a newspaper on Wednesday, as the English third-tier club closed on a deal to sign him.
Lee Corney told the Jewish Chronicle that there was an "80 percent chance" of Oldham signing the 26-year-old striker, who was released from jail last October after serving half of a five-year prison sentence for rape.
News of Oldham's interest in Evans has sparked local outcry, with over 65,000 people signing a petition against the move and one sponsor ending its involvement with the club.
"We believe he has served his time. There is an 80 percent chance of us signing him," said Corney, a British businessman who is based in New York, in an article published on the newspaper's website.
"It won't be done today (Wednesday). It's not straightforward and there are some legal issues. There might be a cost implication, but you have to stick to your principles. We weren't surprised by the backlash."
According to the article, Corney claims to have received messages of support from three unnamed Premier League managers over the matter.
Corney said Oldham's six-person board had decided "unanimously" to sign Evans, but added that he understood the reservations expressed by some supporters and members of the public over the proposed transfer.
"I completely understand people's views and I respect them. I would never tell people they are wrong to have their own views. But we want people to keep them in check," he said.
"I hope people don't get too carried away and it doesn't get too hot."
Earlier, a club spokesman told British newspaper The Guardian that they hoped to make a statement about Evans's future on Thursday.
British media reports claim that Evans has agreed personal terms with Oldham, who are currently 14th in League One.
News of the deal prompted two of Oldham's sponsors to end their involvement with the club.
Verlin Rainwater Solutions pulled out of their association as did chicken restaurant chain Nando's.
On Twitter, Nando's said: "RE Oldham signing: we'd have liked to continue our involvement with fan prizes at matches but feel we can no longer continue our association."
Another sponsor, ZenOffice, threatened to do likewise if the signing went ahead.
British Prime Minister David Cameron waded into the debate on Tuesday, warning clubs to "weigh their decisions very carefully" before attempting to sign the former Wales international.
Oldham have previously offered a contract to a player who has served a jail sentence, having signed striker Lee Hughes in 2007 after he served half of a six-year prison term for causing death by dangerous driving.