Inland Revenue investigates football clubs: Three-year inquiry into alleged tax evasion and financial irregularities among leading sides

THE INLAND REVENUE yesterday confirmed it was investigating allegations of widespread tax evasion and financial irregularities by top football clubs.

Special revenue officers have investigated the financial dealings of clubs at all levels of English football and are also studying the activities of agents who represent top players and managers. The investigation has been going on for three years, a spokeswoman said last night. 'We have a duty to investigate where we suspect there has been abuse. We are bound by a strict code of confidentiality and cannot talk about individuals or individual football clubs.'

Inland Revenue interest in football club's financial dealings stemmed from an investigation into Swindon Town football club in 1990, the spokeswoman said.

Several clubs have been asked to repay outstanding tax revenues after investigators discovered they were underdeclaring their tax liabilities. Clubs that fail to make satisfactory restitution are threatened with legal action.

Lou Macari, the former manager of Swindon Town, told a court last year that ex gratia payments to players and staff were widespread. Cash was frequently paid tax-free, he claimed.

Mr Macari, who now manages Stoke City, Division Two champions this year, was acquitted of conspiring to cheat the Inland Revenue. Swindon's former chairman, Brian Hillier, was jailed for six months for conspiracy to defraud the Revenue. Statements made by Swindon Town players during the investigation implicated several league and non-league clubs and the investigation has 'mushroomed' since then, Revenue sources said.

The use by several major Premier League clubs of agents and off-shore companies to channel 'backhand' payments to players and club officials is also under investigation, according to Inland Revenue sources.

Investigators at Solihull, West Midlands, discovered agents were earning millions in commissions from transfer deals. They are investigating discrepancies between amounts paid for players and amounts received by the selling club.

Allegations of irregular payments between football clubs are expected to be made in the High Court this week when it decides who should run Tottenham Hotspur. Terry Venables, the Spurs' chief executive and former manager, allegedly made irregular payments to secure the signing of a player, according to Alan Sugar, the club's chairman. Mr Venables denies acting improperly.

Scotland Yard has confirmed it has been asked by the French authorities to investigate the transfer of Chris Waddle, the Sheffield Wednesday and former England international, from his former club Tottenham Hotspur to Marseille, following allegations of tax irregularities.

The Football Association has launched its own investigation into some of the allegations.

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