In the light of the unfolding Italian scandal I thought it might be interesting to post this. It’s an English version of an Italian translation of an original Voetbal International (ie Dutch) article (or dossier) published - I think - in late 2004. That might sound like the article is out of date but I think it’s still very relevant. I’d heard about the VI dossier at the time but it turned out to be impossible to get hold of - it was never archived on their site - probably because it does make some pretty serious connections / allegations. Note that I think the one club to get out of this relatively unscathed is Chelsea as they never quite pin anything on Roman directly.
The Long Reach of ‘the Network’
Corruption, money laundering, organized crime, forbidden agreements, cartels, tax havens and people who seem to have escaped from a James Ellroy novel; football is now less and less about sport and more and more about playing dirty. This dossier by the Dutch weekly magazine Voetbal International points the finger at the new masters of international football and raised some tough questions.
In the autumn of 2004, a 33-year-old previously obscure Iranian businessman, Kia Joorabchian, announced he had acquired the most important football club in Sao Paulo, Corinthians. As one of the main shareholders in Media Sports Investments (MSI), a London-based holding company, Joorabchian had agreed a ten year contract with Corinthians in which he agreed to make around 28m euros available to the club, 16m of which would cover all club debts, in exchange for 51% of all the profits made by the Corinthians company over the period. “I want Corinthians to be like Real Madrid and Manchester United”, declared Joorabchian on the day of the takeover, “and my ambition is to construct a team of galacticos. Currently, nobody comes to Brazil to invest, they only want to buy. I want to turn that trend around”. Suddenly Corinthians seemed set for a period of glory, the team whose last trophy of significance was in 2000 with victory in the World Club Championship over, amongst other sides, Real Madrid. The first move of the Iranian magnate was is the purchase of the Argentine forward Carlos Tevez from Boca Juniors, a player who had been linked to many of the most important clubs in Europe, for the exorbitant figure (for South America) of $16m. But this was just the first and most important of a long series of deals to take players to Sao Paulo. Among the others were the River Plate midfielder Javier Mascherano (11m euros), Roger, another midfielder, this time from Benfica (2m euros) and the Werder Bremen defender Gustavo Nery (1.5m euros).
But who is this person who appeared from nowhere and who immediately opened his chequebook with almost excessive generosity? This is Joorabchian’s answer. “Initially I was interested in the purchase of Arsenal, but the price was much too high. I therefore decided to invest in Brazil because I have many friends in the country, and getting passionate about their football is very easy indeed”. A great friend of Joorabchian is Renato Duprat, who acts as an intermediary for MSI but does not enjoy good reputation in Brazil due to an ugly history tied to the failure of a hospital and a health insurance company, both of which he had headed. But the doubts about the new owners of Corinthians did not get in the way of the deal being done. Interestingly, research at the British Bar Council suggests that, respectively, all the following individuals exist: Kia Kiavash, born on 25 July 1971 and of Canadian nationality, Kiavasch Joorabchian, born on 14 July 1971 with both English and Canadian nationality, and finally a Kia Joorabchian, born on 14 July 1971 and of English nationality. Two names, two addresses, two dates of birth. Nothing is clear about this individual who was born in Iran but grew up in England after fleeing his homeland in 1979 when the Shah was toppled by Ayatollah Khomeini and who was then educated at the Shiplake College in Henley and then at Queen Mary College.
In Russia, Joorabchian’s name became known after 1998 when, by means of a company called American Capitol based in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands, he bought 85% of the Kommersant daily newspaper. The paper’s fair market value was around $20m, but (after providing assurances to the director Ralf Shakirov that he would not do so) he quickly sold it on cheaply to the Russian magnate Boris Berezovsky, one of infamous oligarchs who controlled the TV channels and a large section of the Russian media and constituted the ‘shadow government’ of the last years of Yeltsin. In spite of the declarations from Joorabchian, that he had no idea he was selling the newspaper to the Russian billionaire, the local press were sure that the Iranian was simply acting as Berezovsky’s proxy (a Brazilian newspaper published the text of an intercepted telephone call from Corinthians president Alberto Dualib, in which he mentioned that he had spent a weekend in London with Joorabchian and of having visited Berezovsky’s house). For these oligarchs, however, trouble was on its way from a former KGB agent who had decided to target those businessmen who became super rich following the collapse of communism. His name was Vladimir Putin, Boris Yeltsin’s successor in the Kremlin. The new Russian president soon assumed control of media and mobilized the judiciary; one of the oligarchs, Mikhail Khodorovsky, was arrested and others were forced to escape. Berezovsky was accused of arms trafficking in Chechnya, tax evasion and fraud. In 2001 the magnate escaped to London, where in 2003 he was granted political asylum. Soon after a fellow oligarch arrived in the English capital, Roman Abramovich. He was another who had hugely benefited from the chaos of the post-Soviet transition and by the age of 34 years-old was the owner of the colossal Sibneft energy group with a personal fortune of $13bn, as well as being the governor of Chukotka - elected with 92% of the votes - and as such a member of parliament. In June 2003 Abramovich, despite never before being interested in football purchased Chelsea for 180m euros.
Soon after Joorabchian’s takeover of Corinthians, MSI began attracting the attentions of the Brazilian and Argentine authorities. Doubts and concerns also stemmed from the Brazilian Central Bank and from GAECO (Grupo de Atuação Especial de Repressão ao Crime Organizado), the special agency that fights against organized crime. There was one question: where does MSI’s money come from? On 8 December 2004 the court in Sao Paulo opened an inquiry on the relationship between MSI and Corinthians; Kia Joorabchian was interrogated for over three hours. “We have a big problem in understanding from where the money comes and who is the investor”, stated the press release from the chief investigator, Josè Reinaldo Carneiro, “even if it seems that the money is coming from the former Soviet Union”. Romeu Tuma, former Interpol agent and currently member of the Brazilian Socialist Party, notes something else significant: “When it was founded in August 2004 in the Virgin Islands, Media Sports Investments had just £100 in capital then just after the Corinthians deal, two lawyers from Sao Paulo transferred 30m euros from MSI to the football club. It is natural that questions should follow from that”. A number of other companies connected to MSI have been identified, three based in the Virgin Islands (Just Sport, GGAW and Devetia) and one in Gibraltar (Global Sport Agency Ltd). Connections between Joorabchian, MSI and Berezovsky are not hard to find either. The first $2m of the fee to Boca Juniors for Tevez was in fact received from a certain Zaza Toidze of Tbilisi, Georgia. It turns out that Toidze is a lawyer for businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili, long time friend of Berezovsky as well as president of Dynamo Tbilisi since 2001. The coincidences do not stop there and the sight of Abramovich’s luxury yacht berthed in the port of Buenos Aires led to a series of speculations in the Brazilian media suggesting a meeting between Abramovich and the president of Boca Juniors Macrì the day before the sale of Tevez to Corinthians. It was also noticed that the Tevez deal has been managed by FIFA agent Fernando Hidalgo, agent for amongst others Veròn and Crespo and someone with a very good relationship with another key person in this merry go round, the Israeli Pini Zahavi, right hand man of Roman Abramovich at Chelsea.
Chelsea, Dynamo Moscow and PSV Eindhoven, the European connection. Strong suspicions existed that Abramovich and Zahavi had an important role in the Corinthians transfers concluded by Joorabchian. The report presented by the attorney Carneiro revealed the financial details of these operations. It emerges that MSI owns just 35% of Tevez’s licence (the remaining 65% is the property of another company, Just Sport Limited), 100% of Dominguez Sebastian’s licence (acquired by Corinthians from Newell’ s Old Boys) and 50% of Brazilian forward Carlos Alberto’s licence, bought to Brazil from Porto for 6.8m euros (the remainder is owned by Global Soccer Agencies). Another company connected to these, Devetia Ltd, owns 100% of Marcello Matto’s licence, the umpteenth purchase by Joorabchian, bought from Sao Caetano for little more than 1m euros. As noted above, three of these four companies (MSI, Just Sport and Devetia) are based in the Virgin Islands, while the last one, GSA (Global Soccer Agencies), is based in Gibraltar, even though its legal headquarters is in Israel. With many assets in Portugal, GSA has also been involved in a series of transfers in the last two seasons between the Portuguese league and Dynamo Moscow; Danny (Sporting Lisbon), Frechaut (Boavista), Jorge Ribeiro (Gil Vicente), Cicero and Luis Lourenco (both of Sporting Braga), Nuno Assis (Guimaraes), Thiago, Derlei, Maniche, Costinha and Seitaridis (all from Porto), a total of eleven players moved from one league to this single club in just two years, and for a total of approximately 45m euros. To these transfers can be added the deals to take Roger from Benfica to Corinthians and Jankauskas from Porto to Nizza, both supposedly facilitated by Global Soccer Investments. “But the idea that these deals are somehow different is ridiculous as the people in charge of the two companies are the same”, commented a Portuguese FIFA agent who preferred to remain anonymous.
So who are the directors of GSA? “Their names are Jorge Mendes and Pini Zahavi”. Joorabchian-MSI-GSA-Mendes/Zahavi-Abramovich; the circle seems complete. Jorge Mendes, as well as being a FIFA Agent, is also the agent the Chelsea manager Josè Mourinho and the man who delivered Ricardo Carvalho, Tiago Mendes, Paulo Ferriera and Nuno Morais to the Blues. Zahavi, on the other hand, is the spider that weaves Roman Abramovich’s web. The English media call him 'Mr Fixit’. Formerly a journalist, he is currently a key player in English football although he does not even possess an agent’s licence. Zahavi was the man who introduced English football to Abramovich, putting him in contact with directors from Manchester United (with which the Israeli businessman has excellent relations having played a prominent role in the transfer of Rio Ferdinand to the Red Devils) and with the penniless Chelsea chairman Ken Bates, prior to the Russian revolution that exploded in July 2003. One of the biggest Zahavi signings for Chelsea was the acquisition of the Manchester United Chief Executive Peter Kenyon. Meanwhile, in Europe, initial contacts have led to serious negotiations (starting in June 2004) between GSA and Jan Raniecky, the president of Polonia Warsaw, for the purchase of the Polish club. The net of the two main companies, MSI and GSA, is widening and they are continually looking for new affiliates - preferably in somewhat difficult situations. Due to CSKA Moscow’s sponsor being the Abramovich-owned Sibneft, UEFA has opened an inquiry as the international regulations clearly prohibit the participation in the same tournament (in this case the Champions League) of clubs with one owner. In the case of CSKA the strong suspicion is that the sponsorship is only a cover for de facto ownership. In the transfer market, CSKA has previously purchased the Brazilian forward Vagner Love from Palmeiras (for 9m euros, with MSI as the intermediary), but who is now in the process of moving to Corinthians, and also the Czech midfielder Jiri Jarosik who Chelsea are eyeing. The names involved are always the same.
Another club with close relations with the clubs of the ‘network’ is PSV Eindhoven, who, in the summer of 2004 announced the purchase of the strong Santos defender Alex. The details of the deal have never been made public by the club, but the Dutch press has stated that the club did not pay a single cent of the 8m euros fee which Santos received and that Alex is only in Holland ‘to mature’ before leaving for his real club, Chelsea. A prominent role was played in the Alex deal by Brazilian FIFA Agent Giuliano Bertolucci, according to the Brazilian press one of the famous (or should we say infamous) ‘green and gold’ friends of Joorabchian. The contacts between the PSV and Bertolucci are limited to the Alex deal. In summer 2004 the FIFA agent had accompanied the Dutch manager Guus Hiddink on his visit to South America to search for young talent to bring to Europe. In the midst of this Carlos Tevez, came onto the market and was fought over by three clubs. Their names are easy to guess - they were Chelsea, Corinthians and Porto, and it is perhaps it is only necessary to say “the clubs of the MSI ‘network’”. Is that all? No, because following an investigation carried out by the Eindhoven’s Dagblad newspaper it turns out that the PSV talent scout Piet de Visser is not solely employed by the Philips club, but also works for… Chelsea, in the capacity of personal advisor for Abramovich on the transfer market. The conduct and status of De Visser at PSV cannot be criticized as nothing appears to stop him working for more than one club. But the transfers do not always go in the hoped for direction, and this is the case for the Brazilian starlet Robinho, one of De Visser’s favourite players; in Holland much was said about his imminent passage to PSV Eindhoven. To that end Bertolucci and Vlado Lemic (he who oversaw the switch of Mateja Kezman from PSV to Chelsea) had put 10m euros on the table of a surprised Wagner Ribeiro (who is Robinho’s agent). This was the same figure that was offered soon after by Benfica - another club in the orbit of GSA. It all ended up with the Brazilian travelling to Europe in 2005 but to Real Madrid. But other international footballers see the logic of moving to a club in ‘the network’. To build a working relationship with this the cartel of clubs offers a great advantage for a club like PSV Eindhoven, in the sense that it provides access to the immense and perennially healthy South American market through privileged channels and by allowing the import of talented players who are not yet ready to play at the top level. The purchase of Alex is a typical example of this way things operate. The Brazilian defender was disastrous for the first few months but he has gradually acquired greater urgency and experience, and now he appears ready to make the big step up. This is a key factor for each of the other clubs involved with ‘the network’ or those that wish to join, like Benfica, Hapoel Tel Aviv, Deportivo La Coruna, Compostela and Polonia Warsaw.
So what is the secret objective of this strategy? Are Abramovich and Berezovsky so in love with football that they want to own one club in each country? Only someone who has operated on the inside of ’ the network’ can provide an answer which approaches the truth, and Voetbal International has an informant with this insight. Because he obviously does not want his identity revealed he shall be known only as Mr X. “For the so-called ‘network’ I was involved in the transfer of capital from one country to another and of the management of huge amounts of money. Naturally what I was doing had nothing to do with football. It was a matter of transactions, just transactions”. What was the scope of that? "They want to control the market. Their actions are not based on sporting logic, the championship, the club, the fans and however many others; they simply see a potentially healthy market in front of them, and they want to take advantage of it as much as they can. They want to become the first football multinational, just like Sony is in the world of electronics; with one branch in each territory". The lyrics of the song ‘Complete Control’, sung by the Clash almost thirty years ago are still relevant; they referred to the music business but now multinationals are in every field of our daily life.
And in football, this is not the first time that cases of allegedly unlawful collaboration between two or more international club have been seen. One could cite connections between Paris Saint-Germain and Servette, Udinese and De Graafschap, or between Parmalat and various South American clubs (it would be a struggle here to make a convincing case as to their legality of the arrangements). But according to Mr X, things are not comparable, because the ‘network’ of companies is moving ten times the amount of money compared to previous cases: "These are not people with hundreds of millions, they have tens of billions, and using that money in the market means that you can indeed try to control it. The South American market, and Brazil in particular, provides a practically inexhaustible supply of talents - every day a new Pelè seems to be born. And Brazil is like a jungle - the strongest, or in other words, the richest, always seem to get their way. In Holland, a player can more or less decide where he wants to play, but in Brazil this isn’t possible. The agents buy the players’ licences from the clubs when they are still in the youth teams and they often acquire them in blocks, one to two hundred at a time. Then basically, they manage them how they want to. This is normally a good investment for the agent because out of two hundred players someone with real talent will usually come through. What it means is that from a young age players are simply not master of their own destiny."
For Juan Figer, the uncontested king of the Brazilian transfer market, with a fortune of over $600m earned over course of the years through the signing, development and subsequent sale of football players, the game is both simple and extremely profitable. '“The real money that agents make is not through the commission they earn through the transfer of a player. Instead it is through the exploitation of the player’s image rights”. For eight hundred dollars it is possible to set-up a company in the Virgin Islands, which can then manage the image rights for 400-500 players. Compare the profit gained between the commission received for one transfer and the exploitation of these rights - how many times does a player changes clubs in his career? Three, four, six times? The agent pockets 5 to 10% of the value of every completed deal. The image rights deals instead last for thirteen, fifteen years and, what’s more, no tax is paid on this income". Can you provide a more detailed explanation? “For example, a large amount of this money comes from the overpaid players in the Spanish Liga. Their image rights are often managed by an off-shore company based in Holland or a tax haven. This might seem like fantasy land but it is not at all. In the Low Countries a company exists which manages the image rights for many of the most important players in La Liga. Let’s take Ronaldo as an example who earns roughly 10m euros a year. Of this figure, 70% of the income is made up from the revenues from the player’s image rights and the remaining 30% is from the wages received from Real Madrid. Ronaldo happily pays taxes on the 3m euros, while the remaining 7m euros come transferred via Hungary where it sits for twelve hours before moving to Holland, where it remains for another twelve hours before ending up in some tax haven. Why Hungary and Holland? Because between Spain and Hungary and between Hungary and Holland there are fiscal agreements in place. Then, once the money reaches its vault in one of these Caribbean Islands where no one asks questions, the financial company and the agent in question are left to manage 7m clean euros. The football player clearly has nothing to do with these arrangements. They tend to limit themselves solely to discussing with the agent just how much they want to earn from their image rights. The rest ends up in the pocket of those who manage this money year after year.”
In today’s world, those who manage large amounts of money do not have great difficulty in finding people in authority who look the other way and banks who do not ask questions, because, as they say, money talks. The Brazilian investigation of Joorabchian, Corinthians and MSI has now run aground over issues of territorial jurisdiction and it really could not be any other way. The Virgin Islands are definitively off-limits. Josè Reinaldo Carneiro, the attorney in charge of the investigations, has drawn some conclusions but is reticent about revealing all of them: '“Various evidence suggests that this enormous flow of money originates from drug and arms trafficking by the Russian Mafia. The ties between MSI and a certain person who in his own country has been sentenced to twenty years of jail for fraud, supporting terrorism and several other crimes (clearly a reference to Boris Berezovsky) have been more than sufficiently demonstrated”. Romeu Truma adds: “In one way or another the Russian dirty money is going to find its way home. What better way than to make it happen through the football business? There are few controls and the recycling can be carried out without too may risks”. Therefore it seems, rather than laundries and casinos, organized crime is now using football clubs to recycle their dirty money. Given the economic crisis that currently envelopes the world of football, reading the figures paid by certain clubs for the purchase of certain players legitimately raises a few doubts. Look at Chelsea: 30m euros for Ricardo Carvalho, 20m for Paulo Ferreira, 12m for Mateja Kezman, whose contract with PSV was due to expire the next year, then the following year 30m euros for Shaun Wright-Phillips and almost 38m euros for Michael Essien. Money spent casually with no concern for the resulting financial loss. This is the opinion of Tom Cannon, director of the Manchester Business School: “Considering the total investment from Abramovich over this period (£250m) Chelsea needs to make record profits for the next 25 years”. The money spent could therefore have some other purpose. Conclusion. The latest update of these events at the end of August 2004 has seen UEFA report that they have received information regarding the activities of this ever-growing cartel. However, for now, because of the lack of definite evidence, no inquiry has started. Joorabchian, meanwhile, has tried to secure a bridgehead in the Premier League via the purchase of West Ham, but the deal has not yet been concluded. For now FIFA and UEFA wait for events to unfold but the hope is that they will find the time than to ask themselves, as Voetbal International has, if the world of football has indeed becoming a playground for fugitive billionaires eager to plough their dubious fortunes into the transfer market.
Barbicane, tambem estas no pay roll do Jorge Mendes ? ;D ;D