Tuesday, November 17, 2009

British football: diving yet further offshore

Following our blogs about the UK football clubs Leeds, Portsmouth, Hull City, Notts County, and Fifa itself, now we have this,

"Despite calls for greater transparency over the ownership of football clubs, it has emerged that unidentifiable investors could now have a controlling interest in Birmingham City, after a hefty percentage of the company which owns the club was transferred to two unknown companies registered in the British Virgin Islands."

The deal "gives two companies, both registered in the British Virgin Islands, a controlling interest in Birmingham City."

It is a sorry state of affairs. As Richard Williams pointed out in The Guardian recently (though not about this latest case):

"Even those few who start each season in the legitimate hope of ending it with a trophy are mortgaged up to the eyeballs. So now skirts are lifted to any passing oil sheikh, while more and more clubs are willing to tie their destinies to a web of holding companies with tax-haven addresses, behind which the "ultimate beneficial owners" can safely preserve their anonymity, like the customers of exclusive brothels.

What use is a fit-and-proper-person test for incoming owners who cannot be identified? And when they can be pinned down, recent history suggests that no meaningful action is taken. Your father is accused of arms dealing? You acquired your fortune through hoovering up the rights to natural resources that were supposed to become the property of your humble compatriots? You are accused by Amnesty International of sanctioning human-rights violations? Come right in and take that upholstered seat in the directors’ box.

Sven-Goran Eriksson summed it up in Sunday’s interview with the Observer. Asked the source of the funding behind his new project to revive Notts County, he replied: "Where exactly [the money] is coming from, who could care as long as it’s legal?" Dear disingenuous Sven, if you don’t know where it’s coming from, how can you assess its legality?

And don't get us started on the non-domicile issue, which seems to have led to this.


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