Football as a means of money laundering. Now there’s a blast from the past.

By Tony Attwood

In 1968, Sir Alf Ramsey described the West Ham player Martin Peters as “ten years ahead of his time”.

It was a singularly odd phrase from a singularly odd man, and one that I suspect Peters came to hate, as every time he failed with a pass or a cross everyone repeated the phrase in what may be described as an ironic fashion.

I’m not sure Untold has ever been described as ten years ahead of its time, although we’ve tried to focus on stuff that isn’t currently in the everyday domain of your journalist down the pub.  Sometimes, like referee reform we have placed it on the agenda, sometimes like coaching our thoughts have been repeated by others and taken for their own.

But on one topic we’ve been singularly unsuccessful in terms of influencing debate – and that is football as a mechanism for money laundering.  Indeed it is the only subject I have been quietly advised to drop, the only one that has met with open derision, and the only one that in the end we did let go of, just because we were getting nowhere fast.

It was way, way back in 2009 that Untold did what I think was our first article on money laundering and football: Money laundering, Notts County, Portsmouth, Newcastle, etc

It didn’t get much of a take up but we battled on with the theme, which over time became quite simple – that organisations, some with a legal face, some criminal throughout, use football as a way of putting in crime related money and getting out clean money.  In its simplest terms you buy a club, buy and sell lots of players, let huge amounts of money wash around, and you draw out vast sums, disappearing back from whence you came, leaving others wondering how such a club could go to the wall like this.

In the articles we gave all sorts of examples in the articles of what might happen and what probably has happened but the theme was always the same and to my mind the evidence, although not enough to stand up in court, was persuasive.

But it was certainly not a theme that the media wanted to hear, because below it was the very real suggestion that football was rotten to the core.

After the initial flurry of articles we dropped the more speculative side of the issue and came back in 2013 with 41 clubs visited by police on suspicion of tax dodging and money laundering (which does have a partial index to some of the earlier articles at the end, if you are interested).

In that article we covered 18 Serie A clubs, 11 Serie B clubs and 12 lower league clubs that were being investigated.  Magistrates based in Naples spoke about non-existent costs surrounding either non-existent players or players who have moved on.  And what does that sound like?

Oh yes, money laundering.

La Stampa reported that the police were particularly interested in getting players’ contracts, something we heard about with Rangers where players had at least two different versions of a contract exist.  One for the player and one for the tax man.  (Although the allegation in the Rangers case was one for the club and one for the rather simplistic souls who were running the SPL at the time).

But did any of this lead to a bigger analysis of the theme by our football-mad press?  Did the FA or SFA look closely?

No.  But Fifa did.  Unfortunately in classic Fifa style they looked at it from the point of view of a model, rather than a threat, and thought, “hey this is a neat idea.  Why aren’t we doing that?”  And off they went.

And so, Swiss investigators are now looking into 53 possible cases of money laundering and 104 incidents of suspicious activity in Swiss bank accounts as they meander around the award of the World Cups to various dubious locations.  (But it is all right really because England will step in and host them if you want, and England never does anything wrong.  And that’s official).

Domenico Scala, of Fifa’s audit and compliance committee (can you imagine putting that on your cv – “I was head of Fifa’s audit and compliance committee”) , says he is looking for clear evidence of bribery and corruption and if found, the allocation of the finals could be changed.  Russia, as we know, borrowed the computers it used to write up its bid (apparently the local machines had an old version of Word) and then gave them back.  Funny that.

I think we can give Domenico Scala a pat on the head and send him off to bed with his dreams.  But those dreams might be turning a little darker since the Swiss attorney general Michael Lauber announced that investigators were examining “nine terabytes” of data from Fifa’s Zurich headquarters and Swiss banks.

(Incidentally, and by way of comparison, the entire collection of printed works of the U.S. Library of Congress is about 10 terabytes, so that nine terabytes of stuff is quite a lot really.)

And so at once the British press move on to tales of the England under 21s and how Arsenal will swap Oxlade-Chamberlain for a new goalkeeper next season.  Because just as the British press don’t do stories asking why PMGO has so few referees, and why its statistics make no sense, so they don’t do money laundering in football stories.  It’s just not, well, British.  And besides it is getting a bit close to the truth.

Lauber went on, “So far, our investigative team has obtained evidence concerning 104 banking relations; be aware that every banking relation represents several bank accounts.”

He also said that transactions investigators were looking at included 53 which had been flagged in suspicious activity reports by Switzerland’s Financial Intelligence Unit, which turns out to be… an anti-money laundering agency.  And so now that old topic is back within the football agenda (although not necessarily in most of the British press – with one honourable exception).

The Swiss investigation even collected documents from Swiss marketing agency Kentaro relating to a friendly between Brazil and Argentina in Doha in 2010.

And this emphasises the point that the Swiss investigation is the first really broad analysis of finance in football.  It is not going to be fast (the phrase “working to its own timetable” keeps popping up) but it is broad, and I still retain hope that for once it is going to get inside the issue of what really happens to the money in football.

Michael Lauber also tends to say quite often that the Swiss process is independent from the US procedure and that they would not automatically share documents and information with anyone else, because Swiss law doesn’t require them to.

What all this suggests is that the Swiss investigation is not just a little bit extra added onto the Fifa investigation, which is the impression the English press seems to put out, but something quite different and a lot deeper when it comes to the worldwide use of football as a means of washing out dirty money.

You never know, maybe those old articles on Untold were on the right lines after all.

Anniversary of the day

19 June 2007: Jeremie Aliadiere sold to Middlesbrough for £2m.  He played 78 times for them before moving on to Lorient.  In 2014 he moved onto the  Qatari side Umm Salal

Untold Arsenal.  And on Twitter @UntoldArsenal.  And Facebook too.

17 Replies to “Football as a means of money laundering. Now there’s a blast from the past.”

  1. When the true extent of laundering and certain other practices , which FIFA either as you say take part in, or at best turn a blind eye to, becomes apparent, I fear it will threaten the very fabric of the game, millions will realised all is not as it seems, and they have been duped.
    I believe Arsenal are above this at the moment, but we have to be very careful which owners we wish for.

  2. I’m most keen to try to find out what is happening in Britain, Tony, and that is always the hardest bit. Your mention of Rangers was interesting, and I seem to remember some articles on Untold about Rangers. Have you got a link to them and did they deal with this aspect?

  3. Tony,

    Intrigued/concerned by your comment “the only subject I have been quietly advised to drop”… who (or what sort of person) “quietly advised” you?

  4. Same as Pete. 🙂

    Please someone tell me that Arsenal’s interest for Cech is feigned ? Please please please.

  5. Pat
    There were blogs and websites hosted North of The Wall that were dedicated to exposing the charade at the now extinct club Glasgow Rangers. For years & years they carried the story.

    Not one of the 24/7 dedicated Bleeb or NewsCorp. or other sports broadcasters carried the story till after the grit hit the fan and the courts and men or the odd woman with silly wigs or Whigs became involved.

    But I noted with incredulity that aunty Bleeb were happy to propagate an appeal last summer on behalf of the people running the current racket asking fans of the former club to buy season tickets without telling people that money had already been spent! Very strange behaviour. Some would say: dishonest or deliberately misleading.

    These are the same broadcasters that constantly attack AFC for NOT paying double the market rate for overhyped players. For being free of debt peonage.

    It is, what it is. 🙂
    The choice, dear readers, is yours.

  6. If you invest money in a football club that it is impossible to get back no matter how many matches and trophies that club wins (prize money etc. never being big enough to provide a return) you are investing in order to launder either the money or your reputation; or both.
    The nett effects of your actions are to undermine the more logical/moral business models of others and also to fuel, potentially crippling inflation for just about everyone.
    If FFP is to be lost to us as a way halting these practices then some other way has to be found of saving football from itself.

  7. Para.

    One of the things in the news of late, is that it would be Cech and his goalkeeping coach. And there are news articles about Roberts (the Arsenal goalkeeping coach) going to Swansea. And looking at the Staff on the Arsenal web site, I don’t see Roberts listed any more. Does this mean that the Cech deal is real? I don’t really want him, but if a person turned around and loaned him somewhere (do a Chelsea), sure.


    There was a finance article in the news today.

    As to Tony’s theme for this article,
    1. there has been news that two of the Argentinian business (father/son) people have surrendered for potential extradition to the USA.
    2. Liechtenstein is investigating banks deals, and so far nothing suspicious.
    3. The Caribbean is a hub of corruption, and apparently it is becoming difficult for Caribbean banks to find “correspondent” banks outside of the Caribbean to work with.
    4. Septic Bladder and his secretary, have lawyered up in the USA. Richard Cullen of McGuire Woods for the body part, and Barry Berke for the secretary. The body part also picked up Lorenz Erni in Zurich.

  8. Sepp Blatter has said the FIFA officials should pass an integrity test…the humour has reached new heights of the sublime.

  9. It’s always happened in football, although usually at a local level. The catering side was an easy way to clean money but there were alternatives such as the little team up the road that gets 1,500 supporters every week suddenly gets 2,500 per week for 6 games exactly. So at £10 per head (they all pay cash of course) that’s and extra 10k per week and 60k for the 6. Oddly enough they also sign a contract to buy some special grass seed that costs 30k. Odd that the grass never looks any better 😀

  10. Gord, thanks for the Buffet link. Very interesting. It’s amazing how many other ‘big name’ investors have tried to copy him by investing in ‘industries’ he’s invested heavily in, but they rarely understand the basis that he’s buying on. He rarely get involved with real risky stuff and likes to be able to get out (or reduce) quick when he thinks that sector is actually valued correctly.
    That’s not something you can do with a PL team.
    There’s no doubt that buying a football team is a risky and expensive gamble but if it’s done properly (think silent stan, not fenway sporting loudmouths inc) then the potential upside is excellent. Any big investor usually has a bit of ‘gamble’ money they could use but football has a way of taking that and asking for much much more before there’s any payback. That wouldn’t ‘compute’ in buffets system.

  11. Thanks for this Tony and the great job in keeping the eye on the ball . Over the years we have read on this site about money laundering and corruption , and other wrong doings , but the ostriches and other head in the sand types kept laughing at us. The whole roll of yarn will soon unravel . Kudos too to our own Agent Anne for those great articles .

  12. Not so much laundry as perhaps larceny but the figures for the Olympic stadium make interesting reading if accurate.

    2/3 the cost of the new arsenal stadium to convert a brand new athletics track to a footy stadium a decade later. Nice work if you can get it! Haha just kidding I think.

    Bear in mind that arsenal stadium cost includes demolition etc. digging a humongous giant big pit full of groundwater that needed draining inbetwixt to major inter-City high speed railway lines.

    All I can say is:


  13. Interesting Colario, sadly would not surprise me one little bit. Whether genuinely corrupt or just playing the game, looks like the FA have a bit to answer for. And just playing the game is not an excuse in the eyes of the FBI even if her majesties judiciary usually take a lenient view of such things, as long as the accused is well heeled or new establishment of course.

  14. Para, think that story has too many outlets with too many sub strands now appearing in many sources for there not to be something in it, my gut feeling , he will soon be with us, but who knows, Arsenal and Mourinho can be clever, or even devious when it comes to transfers, smoke screens, vapour transfers and such the like

  15. In the past, Wenger always said that he felt the English Premier League was clean & not corrupt. I wonder if he still feels that way, particularly given the PGMO smooth slate officiating with 98% perfection. 😉 😉 😉 !!!

  16. I knew there were handbags in it somewhere, Colario! Thanks for the link. But the writer’s doubt whether the FBI will go after its British ally seems to me to be well founded.

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