This is the strangest summer break I’ve known. It’s not the transfer or non-transfer stuff – it is this business of who owns the clubs.
This issue has been lurking around for weeks at Southampton, Portsmouth, Newcastle and little Notts County. But what brings it into focus today is that the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has issued a report saying that football is at risk from criminals buying clubs, often to facilitate money laundering, tax evasion and other fraud and all that sort of thing.
Some of the tax fraud I know about personally (not because I have done it – I am honest m’lud, I swear I never done it guv) but because players (with the club’s connivance) are using the same routine as used by some authors – and being a writer I know such things.
What you do is sell your rights (copyright, image right, any old rights) to a company in the Virgin Islands, (which you own but nobody knows that as their companies are all secret) and so the club (or the publisher) pays your royalties there. You then seem to earn less in the UK, and so pay less UK tax, but you pick up the rest tax free in the Virgin Islands.
Now consider this. The Virgin Islands scam can be arranged even when everyone knows who’s who and what’s what. But supposing for a moment that no one knows exactly who owns a club. How then are the UK authorities going to trace anything?
An issue of this nature arose with Leeds United and was debated in the Guernsey court recently. There was some debate over who the ultimate owners of some shares in Leeds actually is, and as far as I know, this has not been resolved. (One might say, XXX Holdings owns 75% of a club, but that tells us nothing. Who owns XXX? that’s the question. Who is the ultimate beneficiary?)
I don’t mean to suggest Leeds has done anything wrong – nor that any of the other clubs I mention here have either. Rather I am thinking through the implications of the report in relation to current events.
At this moment there are several clubs lurking around where ownership is unclear. Southampton – perhaps on the edge of the cliff, Portsmouth – whose fit and proper person test seems to have wandered off into outer space, Newcastle where there is an owner, but he wants another mug to join the show, and Notts County.
You’ll be familiar with the issues of the first three, so let’s take a look at Notts County. Again, I am not saying I have inside knowledge – I am just reporting what I have picked up from people who are silly enough to talk to me. And on that basis anyone can write in and tell me where I have gone wrong (although just telling me I am an idiot, I am wrong, and I am related to a rotary engine, as happens sometimes, doesn’t really help much.)
I saw Arsenal win 4-0 at Notts County sometime in the 80s I think when Notts had a year or so in the First Division. I went there again to see a jolly 4th division game a couple of years back. The oldest league club in the world, nice ground, you feel for these sorts of clubs.
Then they were bought out by the fans who owned 60% or so in a supporters trust, and that seemed to stabilise everything. A club owned by the fans – good news all round.
But now the Trust seems to have given (yes given – at least that is how it reads to me) their shares to a middle eastern company of whom no one really seems to know anything (or if they do, they are not telling me).
At one level I want to say, “What are you thinking about guys? Have you not looked at Portsmouth where the money hasn’t turned up?” (and yes I know it might turn up, but it hasn’t yet and no one knows why). And besides, has all the money in the world helped QPR? Seems not.
So, as I read it, the majority of people who owned the Notts County Trust shares have GIVEN their shares to Munto Finance Ltd.
Now let’s write down everything we know about Munto Finance Ltd apart from the fact that they have just taken over the oldest league club in the world.
Yes, well, of course, maybe I am not very good at this, and maybe the answer is staring me in the face, but at the moment apart from the fact that Munto is some sort of Middle Eastern finance organisation, that’s it.
So why did Notts County sell its soul to Munto? It seems on the promise of Championship and then EPL status in the years to come. A bit like, well, Southampton, or Leeds, or Portsmouth…
I am so bemused by the notion that Notts County have given their shares away without revealing exactly who owns Munto, and what these people have done in the past, that I can’t really go much further.
I am also bemused as to why no one else is asking this question. (I really am worrying that the information is out there big time, and I am the only one stupid enough not to see it – after all why is no one else covering this story?)
None of this suggests that Munto are involved in money laundering – even I am not stupid enough to suggest that. But I do want to suggest that selling your club to an unknown buyer, as Southampton, Newcastle, Portsmouth and Notts County are doing, might be (just might, nothing more than might – and I’ll even reduce that to maybe) fraught with difficulties.
So please, someone, tell me who owns Munto.
(c) Tony Attwood 2009
Parts of this article will turn up at random on Team Talk.
- Arsenal v the team that will present a giant toothbrush to our captain
- Arsenal squad for Europa League game
- The abuse of female footballers is appalling, but there is a wider context
- Why Arsenal v Glimt might be tougher than the game against Tottenham
- Is the team that passes the most, the team that gets the best results?