Just when Cyprus started to distance itself from the golden passports scandal, Al Jazeera has linked the island to the murky world of dubious investors laundering money through English football clubs.
The broadcaster exposes how English football clubs can be bought by criminals and become vehicles to launder the proceeds of their crimes, with the Mediterranean island mentioned as a place to buy a new identity.
Middlemen employ Cyprus to give false identities to ‘investors’ looking to hide corrupt money behind opaque offshore trusts; submit fraudulent due diligence reports, all through English football.
Posing as representatives of a Chinese criminal with convictions for bribery and money laundering, dubbed Mr X., Al Jazeera’s undercover reporters reach the brink of striking a deal to buy one of England’s oldest football clubs, Derby County.
Much like the Cyprus Papers’ gotcha video, Al Jazeera carried out covertly filmed meetings with Christopher Samuelson, an offshore trust expert and football dealmaker described as “the ultimate man in the shadows”.
Not fazed by news of the dubious investor’s past, Samuelson lays out a roadmap for Mr X to use offshore trusts to hide the criminal investor’s money and identity.
“Nobody can ever get behind who the shareholders are in the public domain,” he says. “No media can penetrate because it’s held in what we call nominee names.”
He tells undercover reporters he will ensure the English Football League approves the fictitious criminal investor.
How criminals break the rules intended to protect football from their money and influence.
Meet the Deal-Maker who uses offshore trusts to help his clients buy clubs in secret.
Sometimes even he doesn’t know where their money comes from. #SellingFootball
— Al Jazeera Investigations (@AJIunit) August 9, 2021
The financier introduces the reporters to his associate called Keith Hunter – a private investigator and former Scotland Yard detective.
“We’ve done this many, many times for others who, I can assure you, are in a worse position than your boss,” Hunter is caught saying.
Hunter introduces Al Jazeera’s undercover operatives to contacts in Cyprus.
In a series of meetings, a network of enablers express a willingness to help him obtain a European Union passport – with a new name.
The story of Mr X, the fictitious investor, sentenced in absentia to seven years imprisonment and smuggled his money out of China through Macau casinos, was the same scenario in the Cyprus Papers.
The gotcha video up for a Bafta Award shook Cypriot society and the government.
Last November, Nicosia scrapped its “golden passport” scheme after Al Jazeera aired a documentary showing reporters posing as fixers for a Chinese businessman seeking a Cypriot passport despite having a criminal record.
Parliament speaker Demetris Syllouris and an opposition MP were secretly filmed allegedly trying to facilitate a passport for the fugitive investor.
They later resigned, although both insisted they were innocent of any wrongdoing.
Al Jazeera reported that dozens of those who applied were under criminal investigation, international sanctions or even serving prison sentences.
A public inquiry followed, and prosecutions are being processed through the legal system.
Al Jazeera’s ‘The Men Who Sell Football’ video was released on Monday evening at www.ajiunit.com.
In an earlier statement on Monday, Cyprus Attorney General said authorities would be going through the video to assess any information that links Cyprus.
Attorney-General George Savvides told reporters hours ahead of the Al Jazeera documentary that the police, under guidance from the legal services, will act “methodically and carefully” with any new information that comes to light.