Murdered chairman had duped United

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THE PRESIDENT of a Ukrainian football club who was blown up during a match four years ago was suspected of stealing pounds 550,000 from the transfer of its player Andrei Kanchelskis to Manchester United.

Inquiries by The Independent have established that money paid by United into a Swiss bank account never reached Kanchelskis's former club, Shakhtyor Donetsk, a fact that remained a secret from other Ukrainian officials until United tried to sell the player to Everton four years later.

The deal was struck in 1991 with the involvement of Grigori Yesaulenko, a football agent who allegedly offered Sir Alex Ferguson a pounds 40,000 bribe. He and United are already at the centre of an inquiry by the Football Association into the Everton deal, as he was not a Fifa-registered agent when he acted for Kanchelskis's.

The missing money relates to a clause in the 1991 contract under which, on top of a pounds 650,000 transfer fee, United had to pay Shakhtyor pounds 150,000 after Kanchelskis had made 40 appearances, pounds 250,000 after 80 appearances and pounds 150,000 if the player renewed his contract. United paid the money in good faith into a Swiss bank account but it was not received by the Ukrainian club.

Once the absence of the United payments became known, Shakhtyor's president Aleksandr Bragin came under suspicion from shadowy influences behind the club. He and five bodyguards were blown up by a remote controlled bomb during a match in October 1995.

Maurice Watkins, Manchester United's solicitor, said the club had fulfilled all its obligations. He declined to comment on the death of Mr Bragin.

Ravil Safioullin, first vice-president of Shakhtyor, said he had signed a confidentiality clause when the dispute was resolved - with a pounds 770,000 settlement - in March 1996.

Mr Yesaulenko failed to return calls from The Independent, although he has told the Russian media that he believes that Sir Alex's claim about the bribe is a ploy to boost sales of his autobiography.