Even African lawyers think there's something fishy at Leeds TSS October 28, 2009 Leeds United 18 Comments I use the internet and more specifically, search engines quite a lot for researching things I write on TSS, and whilst trying to find anything at all on Forward Sports Fund, I came across a post on a site called Commercial Law International. The site is essentially a blog written by four people whose background is in law. The writer of the article I’m going to refer to – Charles Wanguhu – has a Masters in Law from the university of Westminister and currently works for AfriCOG which is (and I quote from their website) The Africa Centre for Open Governance (AfriCOG) is an independent, non-profit making organisation with a mandate to provide cutting edge research on governance and public ethics issues and, monitor governance fundamentals in both the government and the private sector. AfriCOG’s governance and anti-corruption reform initiative are aimed at addressing the structural causes of Kenya’s governance crisis by a knowledgeable citizenry. What interested me in his post is that the writer has far more knowledge of the ins and outs of international law than I do personally. We’ve all made our thoughts well known about the handling of Leeds United’s ownership, but few of us really have an in-depth understanding of how it’s been allowed to remain so mysterious. His post starts with the following; In the current financial crisis the role of offshore havens have been placed in the spotlight and quite rightly so. The lack of transparency in their dealings has meant that these centres have not only been used for tax evasion, money laundering, but also as bases for special purpose entities. The role of British offshore havens has of late been highlighted with regards to the ownership of football clubs. The Riddle of Leeds Football Club ownership has played out quite interestingly in the Royal Court of Jersey. In January this year the Leeds Chairman Ken Bates told the court that he jointly owned the club’s holding company, Forward Sports Fund. However in an affidavit sworn for the same court in May, Bates states that he did not own any shares in Forward and that the previous statement was “incorrect” and “an error” on his part. So as you’ve just read, he cuts straight to the chase highlighting the part that brought Forward Sports Fund’s ownership into disrepute to start with – the fact Bates lied to a court. For me, the lack of transparency and willingness to lie with such ease to anyone from supporters, to the Football League to an actual court leaves me in no doubt that he’s hiding something. Lying to a court is a criminal offence afterall and not something you’d do unless desperate. Although Charles never directly accuses Bates or FSF of money laundering, the lack of transparency is consistant with those that have used companies for such a purpose. Even if it’s not that, there’s something clearly awry with Leeds United’s ownership and the continued secrecy will only serve to fuel speculation. An interesting point to note is that Forward Sports Fund is a Cayman Islands-registered outfit, with its administrators in the very transparent capital of Switzerland. Château Fiduciaire the administrators/trustees on being pushed to reveal the beneficial owners of Forward indicated that; “Understandably, it is not the policy of this company, a fully regulated Swiss fiduciaire, to release information on ultimate ownership without an appropriate court order, valid in Switzerland.” The ownership of Leeds United has been routed via a network of offshore companies ever since Ken Bates arrived at Elland Road club in 2005. Bates in his affidavit states that: “Neither I, Mark Taylor or Shaun Harvey are able to confirm who the ultimate beneficial owners of Forward are.” The above not only makes a mockery of the Football associations “fit and proper test” of Club owners but just goes to show the lack of transparency in football administration. There’s been such an effort made to keep the clubs ownership secret when it would be so much easier to simply reveal who the true beneficators are, that no one, no matter how naive could possibly believe there isn’t something suspicious about all this. Whether it’s the men that ultimately own the football club that couldn’t possibly pass the ‘fit and proper’ test for one reason or another, or whether it’s that money is being laundered through it or it’s simply a case of tax evasion, I fail to see how this can continue if the Football League wish to get a stranglehold on club ownership issues. A lot has been said about the ownership issues at Leeds United, but the fact that lawyers are starting to take an interest suggests they have a reason to. The Football League have said very little about whether or not they’ll continue to investigate Leeds, but with such attention being put on them, I can’t see them doing otherwise. Unless FSF and Bates cut their ties quickly and sell the club to someone else, the truth is inevitably going to come out eventually. What that truth is, and whether there’ll be any consequences for Leeds United FC continues to worry me. I think we’ve been through enough in the last decade and deserve a transparent regime with the clubs best interests at heart. FSF clearly isn’t that. Charles Wanguhu’s full post can be read here: Will the real Leeds United owners please stand up?