Football fans were shocked to learn about a long-running, multi-million dollar "scheme" that allowed extremely rich yet convicted criminals to purchase English football clubs. A two-year undercover investigation by the Al Jazeera network has exposed how these very popular clubs served as the perfect vehicle to launder dirty money of these foreign buyers.
Al Jazeera reporters went undercover as representatives of a fictional Chinese billionaire looking for an English football club that could hide his ill-gotten funds. They coordinated with Chris Samuelson, an offshore finance expert, and Keith Hunter, a former Scotland Yard detective.
Samuelson is a well-placed yet shadowy businessman acting as a football deal-maker or broker for decades. He links Chinese and Russian buyers with the owners of famous football clubs, including Reading, Hull, Derby County, Aston Villa and even Chelsea.
Three of the buyers he revealed in hidden camera footage were Roman Abramovich, owner of Chelsea, Anton Zingarevich, the ex-owner of Reading and Tony Xia, the convicted Chinese businessman who once owned Aston Villa.
The undercover reporters informed Samuelson that their boss and potential investor/club buyer was "Mr X," a wealthy Chinese businessman with an unsavory backstory. Mr X fled to Hong Kong after being prosecuted and convicted in absentia in Mainland China. He also served seven years for bribery and money laundering but was able to smuggle the bulk of his fortune out through the casinos in Macau.
Samuelson told the reporters that Mr X's background wouldn't be a problem, and it would be easy to hide his wealth and identity behind a series of offshore trusts. He also advised them of "dirty tricks" used to deceive unsuspecting football authorities. English Football League rules are strict with ownership, clearly stating that no criminal or ex-convict can own a club and that buyers need to prove how they obtained their funds.
Since Mr X was interested in a "sleeping giant," Samuelson insisted that one of the top six teams in the English Championship League would be a great fit. In terms of fees, Samuelson's commission would be 3% of the total sale. He also gave a detailed guide on how to transfer money to an offshore account in Gibraltar. Mr X also could get a new identity via a European Union passport from Cyprus worth 10 million Euros.
When they coordinated with Keith Hunter, they were shocked to find out that he could give them access to competitor buyer's bank accounts and personal details. The undercover investigation culminated with the fake buyers at the brink of finalizing a deal to purchase Derby County FC, one of England's oldest football clubs.
Football fans will be witnessing the fallout from this investigation in the coming months. English football teams are very popular because they are a part of history, heritage and community, with clubs dating back to the 1850s. Fans need to demand more accountability from officials so they can protect their beloved from criminals who only see them as a temporary holding account for their illegal cash.