New inquiry into football payments

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The Independent Online
FIFA, THE world governing body of football, is to be asked to investigate the transfer of two Chinese players to the United Kingdom after an inquiry by The Independent uncovered a pounds 400,000 shortfall in the deal.

Crystal Palace, the club that bought the players, called in the English Football Association to examine the deal yesterday. Within hours, the FA said it would ask Fifa to investigate because of the international nature of the transfer.

The Independent revealed yesterday that Crystal Palace had agreed to pay pounds 1.35m for Fan Zhiyi and Sun Jihai in August, but inquiries in China found that the Chinese Football Association was expecting only $1.5m (pounds 949,367) - a difference of pounds 400,633 at August exchange rates.

At a six-hour board meeting yesterday, furious directors demanded to know where the extra money was headed.

In a statement issued last night, the club confirmed it had called in the FA and asked its auditors, Arthur Andersen, to "conduct a review of related... transactions," as part of an audit already under way.

The club, managed by the former England coach, Terry Venables, also pledged to examine past transactions when it was owned by Ron Noades, who was chairman until this year. Mr Noades declined to comment last night, but he is understood to believe Palace's statement represents the latest in a claim and counter- claim legal battle between himself and Mark Goldberg, the current chairman.

The Board of Crystal Palace FC was committed to high standards of corporate governance and strong financial management procedures, the club added.

The Independent's inquiries established that the difference in the amounts agreed by the English and Chinese clubs could not be accounted for by normal commissions.

Chinese officials said their agent, Liu Shijun, of Greatgate Overseas Development Co Ltd, based in north-west London, and known as Gaode in China, was entitled to 10 per cent from their expected $1.5m.

Mr Goldberg said the only fees he had paid out were pounds 25,000 plus VAT to the English agent Tom Lawrence - even though Mr Lawrence denied any involvement.

The Football Association confirmed it had been asked to help Crystal Palace to investigate the transaction. Graham Noakes, its head of competition and regulations, would be assigned to the task, according to the FA spokesman Steve Double. Mr Double added: "We will be speaking to Fifa because international transfers are involved. It will be up to them to press for discovery of any transactions involved."

Football agents are normally licensed by Fifa, although Mr Liu is not under its auspices. Keith Cooper, a Fifa spokesman, said the English agent, Mr Lawrence, was licensed as an official Fifa players' agent and as such could be called to account for his actions at any time. Fifa agents lodge a pounds 100,000 bond, which may be forfeited in the event of any wrongdoing.

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