Venables challenges MP over bribe claims

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The Independent Online
Terry Venables last night denied allegations he was involved in financial irregularities while manager of Tottenham Hotspur FC and he threatened to sue the MP who made the claims.

The England coach said Labour's Kate Hoey had been "cowardly" using parliamentary privilege to link him to allegations of bribery and corruption. "If she stops hiding behind parliamentary privilege ... I will sue for libel," he said. "I am fed up with these accusations. They keep surfacing but no one ever proves them."

Ms Hoey's allegations were made during a powerful Commons speech at the start of a debate on association football on Monday night.

She suggested there had been government connivance in allowing football clubs to pay tax arrears without being prosecuted; she criticised Inland Revenue involvement and alleged that tax officials had "warned off" Customs and Excise officers from investigating £70m in transfer deals; and she invited the Premier League commission of inquiry to examine claims that some players were given £2,000-a-month credit cards and subsidised houses.

Calling for a full independent inquiry into football sleaze, away from FA control, Ms Hoey cited a raft of allegations - already well-aired publicly - about transfer deals that benefited agents and managers. She paid particular attention to deals in Australia involving the agent Tom Lawrence and in Norway involving another agent, Rune Hauge, whose £1.57m arrangement of the John Jensen transfer to Arsenal resulted in a £285,000 "gift" being paid to the Arsenal manager, George Graham. Mr Graham subsequently paid back the money.

Mr Venables was angry at a reference Ms Hoey made about allegations that Brian Clough, the former manager of Nottingham Forest, had been given a bribe to facilitate the sale of the player Teddy Sheringham to Mr Venables's Tottenham.

Ms Hoey asked the minister: "... whether any evidence of financial fraud has been passed on to the police authorities?"

But the police, who did investigate the allegations, dropped their investigation last year. "She either must have known about that, in which case her behaviour is scandalous, or she doesn't know about it, in which case she is just incompetent," Mr Venables said.

It is understood the Venables' camp believe there is an orchestrated campaign against him. One of Ms Hoey's main allegations against him was that he knew that another agent, Eric Hall, was representing Tottenham at the same time as three players the clubwas trying to buy, in apparent breach of the Prevention of Corruption Act. Mr Hall has denied the claim.

Ms Hoey said she stood by everything she said. "I will be repeating what I said where and when necessary," she added.