Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit exposes how English football clubs can be bought by criminals and become vehicles to launder the proceeds of their crimes.
A new documentary and podcast series, The Men Who Sell Football, provide a startling insight into the murky world of football finance, ownership and governance in the wealthiest and most popular league in the world.
With football still reeling from the European Super League fiasco, we meet middlemen who explain how they are able to hide corrupt money behind opaque offshore trusts; submit fraudulent due diligence reports; employ “dirty tricks”; and give criminals false identities.
Posing as representatives of Mr X, a criminal on the run from China after being convicted in absentia for bribery and money laundering, undercover reporters from the I-Unit reach the brink of striking a deal to buy Derby County, one of England’s oldest football clubs.
The football authorities’ Owners’ and Directors’ Test bars from owning a club anybody who has an unspent criminal conviction with a sentence of more than 12 months.
Christopher Samuelson, an offshore trust expert and football deal maker, gives a step-by-step guide on how he can use offshore trusts to hide our criminal investor’s money and identity. In the 1990s, he helped Russian oligarchs move hundreds of millions of dollars out of Russia.
He says he will ensure our criminal investor is approved by the English Football League. “I’ll come up with an idea of how we can structure it, so we defeat the EFL,” he says.
Samuelson and his associate, Keith Hunter, a private investigator and former Scotland Yard detective, say they can help obtain a new passport for the criminal investor – with a new name – to deceive the football authorities.
Hunter introduces our undercover operatives to contacts in Cyprus. In a series of meetings, a network of enablers express a willingness to help him obtain a passport and a new identity.
The story of the Cyprus passports was told in Al Jazeera’s Bafta-nominated documentary released in October 2020, called The Cyprus Papers Undercover. It led to high-level resignations and weeks of anti-corruption demonstrations.
In response to the I-Unit’s findings, Christopher Samuelson’s lawyers said that he had never been told that Mr. X had a criminal conviction for money laundering and bribery. Had he known of any criminality, he would have ended discussions immediately.
Keith Hunter refused to engage with the details of our findings but said that he strongly disputed most of them. Hunter said that he left the Police with an exemplary record.
Mel Morris, the owner of Derby County F.C., told us the club would only be sold to “appropriate custodians” and that they had not had any “formal association” with Samuelson for some time.