You know, it’s amazing how quiet the football media can be when they want to…
Leading into our upcoming series on the transfer market, transfer rumours, and (here’s the big one) possible money laundering in the EPL, I thought I would give our readers a few things to think about in advance. In particular, I’m curious to know whether any of our readers heard about any of the following news stories when they first broke.
Because, based on my preliminary observations, I’m finding myself forced to the conclusion that the English media has a certain reluctance to draw attention to what I’ll refer to as “the ML Word” (hint: M***y L**nd**ing), as it applies in the context of EPL football. And as I continue my research into this subject, I would be interested to hear whether readers share this opinion. So, getting straight into it…
Specifically, all of the following news articles in some way involve extremely serious criminal allegations (and occasionally charges), that are linked, in some way, to English Premier League football. These allegations range from laundering the illicit proceeds of organized crime, to tax evasion, and even to narcotics trafficking. All of these stories were reported in the international press (and the English press to a limited extent).
And yet, I personally do not recall hearing about any of these stories until I specifically began researching the subject of money laundering. I will be following up on this topic in more detail later, but I thought it would be a good idea to get you all thinking about it in advance. Accordingly, I’m deliberately writing this article in a way that raises more questions than answers. But I hope that you will all find it quite interesting nonetheless.
So, just to warm up, I’ll begin this “thought exercise” with a couple of articles that appeared in the Daily Mail on 23 March, 2010, concerning money laundering through the EPL transfer market. I’ve excerpted the parts that I consider to be most relevant (not necessarily in chronological order), and the links to the full articles are also provided:
“Ten British gangsters have been arrested in France after a vast drug and money-laundering operation was smashed.”
“There is…an allegation that some of the cash was linked to agents or other parties involved in the lucrative – and notoriously unregulated – trade in footballers.”
“French investigating officer Guy Sapata did not rule out the Premier League link…
‘There could be an overlap between drugs, money-laundering and big money transfers,’ he said.”
“The enquiry began in May 2009 when one of the accused – named only as Stephen C – was arrested…Police found half-a-million pounds worth of used notes in a hidden compartment in the boot of his Mercedes, along with traces of cocaine.”
“Campbell claimed that the money in his Mercedes was provided as part of a ‘bung’ connected with the transfer of a player to a leading English club, police said yesterday.
‘He told us that all the money came from professional footballer transfers in England,’ added the investigating officer.
‘Those arrested say they had links with big names in the world of Premiership football.’”
“Two other suspects, Mark Bridges and Mickael Keating, lived in Augignac and Champniers-et-Reilhac respectively. Both apparently poured their profits from organised crime into luxury properties in the area, and into farmland.
They are suspected of recruiting ‘lieutenants’ from London, to act as ‘runners’ of both drugs and laundered money.”
Further on the subject of money laundering in football, and the media’s coverage thereof, I would like to specifically direct your attention to the issues currently surrounding Portsmouth football club. While you are likely aware of the pending tax evasion charges against Harry Redknapp, you might be surprised to learn that tax evasion is far from the most serious of the related charges surrounding Portsmouth.
For example, in England, you would have to read the media coverage very closely to be aware that “Operation Apprentice,” the criminal investigation in which Redknapp was ultimately ensnared, was not initially investigating tax evasion at all, as is apparent from the following 2009 Daily Mail article:
“Operation Apprentice, under the guidance of Detective Inspector David Manley, was instigated to investigate suspicions of money laundering in the transfer market… ”
And in relation to the above, it begs the question of what other money laundering allegations, if any, might have turned up in the media that are linked in some way to Portsmouth? (And yes, others have turned up).
The most serious such allegations originate from Latvia and Lithuania. I first discovered these allegations in the U.S. financial media, and after I quote the following article, we will examine how the following coverage differed from what you would most likely have been exposed to through the English media (I’ve highlighted the portions of the article that are relevant to this media coverage.) Incidentally, this arrest, and release by a British court, of Portsmouth’s owner occurred very recently, on 25 November, 2011:
“LONDON (AP) — A London court has released Russian businessman and Portsmouth Football Club owner Vladimir Antonov on bail following his arrest in connection with a massive money-laundering probe in Lithuania.”
“Antonov told the Lithuanian daily Respublika in a phone interview published Thursday that he feared for his life.
‘I returned to London because I live and work here — my family is here. Where else can I go? Russia? That would be a one-way ticket. I would have to stay there for safety, but this would be considered an escape attempt,’ he said.
‘I am ready to testify…I understand that extradition is inevitable. I can say it openly — I am scared that I may get killed,’ Antonov said.”
“VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — A Russian businessman who owns Portsmouth Football Club…has been arrested in London in connection with a money laundering probe that has rocked Lithuania and Latvia, officials said Friday.
Vladimir Antonov, 36, and a Lithuanian partner, Raimondas Baranauskas, 53, were detained Thursday on an arrest warrant issued by investigators probing alleged fraud and money laundering at his banks in the Baltic states, Lithuanian prosecutor Tomas Krusna told reporters.
The Bank of Lithuania said late Thursday that his bank there, Snoras Bank, will be liquidated, calling it the best solution for country’s financial system and economy, which were jolted after the bank was nationalized and its operations halted.
Lithuanian regulators claim that hundreds of millions of euros were siphoned from Snoras, the country’s fifth-largest financial institution, while Latvian authorities have said that similar asset-stripping took place on a massive scale at Latvija Krajbanka, a subsidiary bank controlled by Snoras.
Lithuanian bank chief Vitas Vasiliauskas said the government was liquidating the bank rather than waste taxpayers’ money trying to help ‘a plane that won’t fly.’ ‘There is no other way to solve this situation,’ he said.”
Based on my interpretation of the above article, it appears to suggest that the events leading up to the English criminal charges against parties linked to Portsmouth football club did not occur in a vacuum, but rather occurred concurrently with a much larger criminal scheme, which was specifically linked to money laundering (if the allegations by the Lithuanian and Latvian governments are to be believed). And this, in turn, would appear to me to suggest that the events at Portsmouth could, possibly, bear some relationship to this alleged larger criminal scheme.
The above conclusion (which is entirely unproven and could easily be completely wrong), has, I believe, been logically drawn from the above news report that appeared in the U.S. financial media. However, based on my research up to this point, this same conclusion would not be logically drawn from news reports of the same incidents in the English media… But why?
For example, the BBC (declining to mention the “money laundering probe that has rocked Lithuania and Latvia” which both of the above articles mentioned in the first paragraph), reported the story as follows:
“A Europe-wide arrest warrant has been issued for the owner of Portsmouth Football Club Vladimir Antonov.
Lithuanian prosecutors want to question him as part of an investigation into alleged asset stripping at Snoras Bank.
They are also seeking his business partner Raimondas Baranauskas. Both are former managers and shareholders of the bank and deny any wrongdoing.”
In the BBC’s coverage, the word “money laundering” isn’t mentioned until paragraph 6, when the BBC notes that “a pre-trial investigation into alleged fraud and money laundering has begun.”
Now, is it just me, or does it seem that the BBC article above, in comparison with the first article quoted, seems intended to diminish the seriousness of the allegations against Antonov? Or at least, to de-emphasize the money laundering aspects of the investigation?
Similarly, the Daily Mail, which did cover the story with a bit more “gravitas” than the BBC, still appeared hesitant to draw too much attention to “the ML word.”:
“Lithuanian authorities have issued a Europe-wide arrest warrant for Portsmouth joint owner Vladimir Antonov.
Antonov, who took control of Pompey earlier this year through his London-based business Convers Sports Initiatives (CSI), is wanted in connection with the disappearance of £200million from Snoras Bank.”
Also from the Mail:
“The Russian owner of Portsmouth Football Club has appeared in court after being arrested by British police over a money-laundering investigation in Lithuania.
Vladimir Antonov, 36, was held in London on an extradition warrant issued by the Lithuanian authorities in connection with alleged fraud at a bank he controls.”
So, in the Mail’s coverage, we do at least get a mention of “money laundering” in the opening paragraph. However, points must be deducted for the use of the term “bank fraud” in the headline, which is then repeated towards the end of the same paragraph that mentions “money laundering.” (This would cause the term “bank fraud” to stand out more in the mind of the reader than the term “money laundering.”)
Also, is it just me, or does the term “bank fraud” somehow fail to convey the severity of the alleged crime? Specifically, allegedly asset stripping two banks (one of which is reportedly “the fifth-largest financial institution” in Lithuania) to the point where they were seized by the government, and the losses foisted onto Lithuanian tax payers?
Finally, just as one more example, let’s take a quick look at the Guardian’s coverage:
“Portsmouth Football Club have been plunged into renewed crisis after the company which owns the club, Convers Sports Initiatives, 80% owned by Vladimir Antonov, who has been arrested for alleged bank fraud, was placed into administration. Antonov, wanted for questioning in Lithuania, has resigned as the chairman and director of the club.”
Based on the above, I am forced to the hypothesis that the English media may have a certain reluctance to report on “money laundering” in conjunction with English football. And along those lines, I personally am very interested in the media coverage (or lack thereof) of some further money laundering allegations that may have appeared in relation to Portsmouth.
I’ll continue my thesis in the next article, tomorrow.
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