League hasto of­fer more than an MOT

The Football League Paper - - CHRIS DUNLAVY - Chris Dunlavy

SEVEN years ago, a con­man named Rus­sell King walked into Notts County promis­ing the wealth of Croe­sus. Un­der­stand­ably, a dy­ing club grasped in des­per­a­tion.

King’s story was wor­thy of Jack­anory. A con­sor­tium fea­tur­ing an Arab ‘prince’ des­per­ate to buy a foot­ball club. North Korean min­ing rights worth £1.9 tril­lion. A £5m guar­an­tee, backed by a Lon­don bank. So what if he was hid­ing be­hind a labyrinth of shell com­pa­nies? Who cared if no­body had ac­tu­ally seen any hard cash?

This was a man who could lure Sven Go­ran Eriks­son to Meadow Lane. A com­pany with the mone­tary mus­cle to en­tice Kasper Sch­me­ichel and Sol Camp­bell.

Fans, di­rec­tors, au­thor­i­ties. All were wil­fully blind to the dan­ger, un­will­ing to scratch the nag­ging itch of sus­pi­cion that it was all too good to be true.

Which, of course, it was. King was a con­victed crim­i­nal, cur­rently holed up in Bahrain with an ar­rest war­rant on his head.

Sad­dle

The promised cash was false, just like the Ara­bian prince. The Lon­don bank went bust and the sign­ings served only to sad­dle the club with £7m worth of debt.

To this day, no­body knows ex­actly what King and the con­sor­tium he led, Munto Fi­nance, wanted from County. Hav­ing bought the club for £1, he pos­si­bly in­tended to flip it for a song, us­ing the in­flux of star names to at­tract in­vest­ment and/or a buyer.

Maybe King needed Eriks­son to fur­ther his own busi­ness in­ter­ests. The eter­nally gullible Swede was, af­ter all, pa­raded round Py­ongyang like a tro­phy wife dur­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions over rights to the coun­try’s gold and sil­ver.

Re­mem­ber, too, that some £200,000 worth of club funds ended up in the pock­ets of Munto, in­clud­ing £90,000 on fives­tar ho­tels. Per­haps it was noth­ing more so­phis­ti­cated than grubby theft.

As the full hor­ror of what hap­pened at Meadow Lane sank in, fin­gers were pointed squarely at the Foot­ball League for wav­ing the takeover through.

County’s di­rec­tors were des­per­ate, the club a mess. They had an ex­cuse for walk­ing into the trap. The League did not and sub­se­quently vowed to “tighten up” its reg­u­la­tions on ap­prov­ing own­er­ship of its clubs.

Yet, seven years on, here we are again.

Diego Le­mos, a Brazil­ian foot­ball agent based in Doha, has left More­cambe high and dry.

AWOL since Novem­ber, the 35year-old’s fail­ure to pro­vide funds saw wages go un­paid, then prompted the res­ig­na­tion of two di­rec­tors, in­clud­ing Ab­dul­rah­man Al-Hashemi, the Qatari mon­ey­man who claims he was ‘se­ri­ously mis­led’ by Le­mos. Peter McGui­ness, from whom Le­mos ‘bought’ an 80 per cent share in Septem­ber, has not been paid. And no­body – not the club, not even Al-Hashemi – knows where Le­mos has gone. So, have the EFL’s own­ers and di­rec­tors test failed again? Ab­so­lutely. The real ques­tion, how­ever, is whether any test would have truly pro­tected More­cambe. Hav­ing es­tab­lished a set of rules, the League can only fol­low them. In the case of County, King en­sured his name was on no doc­u­men­ta­tion, even if an alias of L. Volde­mort should have raised eye­brows. Later, when Leeds was sold to Mas­simo Cellino, the EFL were forced to con­cede that all the Ital­ian’s crim­i­nal con­vic­tions were spent.

Like­wise, Le­mos’ takeover waved plenty of red flags – hastily-es­tab­lished shell com­pa­nies in the North East, more mys­te­ri­ous Asians – but noth­ing sub­stan­tively wrong.

A day of solid Googling re­veals only that Le­mos is the son and nephew of former Brazil­ian foot­ballers, whose biggest deal as a FIFA-li­censed agent took trou­bled ex-Botafogo striker Job­son to Al-It­ti­had.

Com­pa­nies House shows two sole di­rec­tor­ships, one with an en­tity called Sports 99 Ltd, the other with G50 Hold­ings Ltd. Both were set up only in the spring of 2016 and are thus yet to file ac­counts. Of his other busi­ness deal­ings and gen­eral net worth, there is lit­er­ally zilch.

Bat­tle

Again, that in it­self is a worry. But Le­mos had no crim­i­nal con­vic­tions, no failed ven­tures. Proof of funds was pro­vided, al­beit through Al-Hashemi. Fishy? Yes, but he didn’t breach any reg­u­la­tions. The­o­ret­i­cally, the EFL can refuse to sanc­tion any takeover but, as was the case with Cellino. To do so would leave them open to a costly le­gal chal­lenge. That is why they need a frame­work. For More­cambe, it is too late. Al-Hashemi has vowed to ‘re­pair’ the dam­age but, hav­ing handed Le­mos con­trol, it is dif­fi­cult to see any­thing but a long and lengthy bat­tle to wres­tle it back. It is a cau­tion­ary tale. Ul­ti­mately, the EFL’s ‘test’ must be viewed as lit­tle more than an MOT. It will test if the brakes work, but not if your en­gine is about to be de­stroyed. They sim­ply do not have the re­sources for any­thing more thor­ough. That leaves the seller to seek for truth amid a fog of des­per­a­tion. Sadly, More­cambe will not be the last vic­tim.

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