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English football club ready for sale to ‘criminal’: report

An investigation by the Al Jazeera broadcaster to be released Monday found that middlemen were prepared to enable a fictitious criminal investor to buy a storied English football club.

The investigation found that, with the help of a fixer, Derby County FC was prepared to go through with a £99 million ($137 million) sale to a fictitious Chinese buyer, despite a ban on serious criminals purchasing a club.

Under the English Football League’s owners and directors’ test, anyone with an unspent conviction that carried a custodial sentence of more than 12 months is barred from acquiring a club.

“Posing as representatives of a Chinese criminal with convictions for bribery and money laundering, undercover reporters from (Al Jazeera’s) investigative unit (reached) the brink of striking a deal to buy Derby County, twice English league champions and one of England’s oldest football clubs,” Al Jazeera said in a statement.

The broadcaster said its undercover reporters met with “Christopher Samuelson, an offshore trust expert and football deal maker”.

“Our reporters tell Samuelson that Mr X, as we call our fictitious investor, is very rich, was sentenced in absentia to seven years imprisonment and smuggled his money out of China though Macau casinos.”

“Now he wants to buy an English football club to launder his money.”

Samuelson is seen giving a “step-by-step guide on how he can use offshore trusts to hide our criminal investor’s money and identity,” according to the broadcaster.

The reporters were introduced to a private investigator as well as a network of “enablers” in Cyprus who were willing to supply an EU passport in a new name, the network added.

The latest revelations follow a series of disclosures around Cyprus’s tarnished passports-for-cash scheme that sought to attract investors, also reported by Al Jazeera.

Last year the broadcaster aired a documentary showing reporters pretending to represent a Chinese businessman seeking a Cypriot passport despite having a criminal record, and being helped by influential officials.

Cyprus’s Attorney-General George Savvides told journalists ahead of Monday’s broadcast that any new evidence would be “properly evaluated” by the police and prosecutors. 

Samuelson’s lawyers told Al Jazeera their client had never been informed that Mr X had a criminal conviction for money laundering and bribery. 

“Had he known of any criminality, he would have ended discussions immediately,” the lawyers said, according to Al Jazeera.

Derby County owner Mel Morris told Al Jazeera that “the club would only be sold to ‘appropriate custodians’ and that they had not had any ‘formal association’ with Samuelson for some time”.

The club did not immediately respond to AFP’s request for comment.

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