Premier League new boys deny links to son of deposed President

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The Independent Online

The Premier League's newest addition, Blackpool, yesterday denied claims that the club is part-owned by the controversial exiled son of Kyrgyzstan's deposed president.

Maxim Bakiyev, whose father fled Kyrgyzstan in April, is accused by the country's new authorities of fomenting recent unrest in the south. Mr Bakiyev was detained by the UK Border Agency, acting on an Interpol warrant, when he arrived by private jet at Farnborough Airport on Monday night.

Until then, he was believed to be hiding in Latvia, where his alleged business partner Valery Belokon is based. His representatives have previously referred to the 33-year-old, said in Kyrgyzstan to view himself as a "local Abramovich," as a part-owner of Blackpool. Yesterday, however, Blackpool's chairman, Karl Oyston, denied that Mr Bakiyev had ever had a stake in the club. "I've never met him, and he has no financial interest in the club whatsoever that I know of," said Mr Oyston.

Mr Belokon had a number of business interests in Kyrgyzstan during the reign of Mr Bakiyev's father, and is also President of Blackpool Football Club. He took over the club in 2006, and according to the club website has invested a "substantial" amount of money for buying players, which paid off when the club was promoted to the Premier League this May.

The question is whether any of the money invested by Mr Belokon actually came from Mr Bakiyev. A report aired on Kyrgyz state television in October suggested that Mr Bakiyev was one of the owners of Blackpool, and in email communications with The Independent last November, a PR professional acting on behalf of Mr Bakiyev referred to him as "one of the owners of Blackpool Football Club in England".

But Mr Oyston insisted that Blackpool was unaware of any connection. "I know that Valery Belokon is operating in Kyrgyzstan," he said. "It's quite natural that he would know all the political players there, but to my knowledge this man has never even been to a Blackpool match."

Mr Bakiyev has been accused by opponents and media outlets in the region of taking advantage of his father's role as president, and embezzling millions of dollars from the country's investment fund, which he ran.

To come under the jurisdiction of the Premier League's "fit and proper person" test for club directors, he would have to be an office holder at the club or own a declared 10-per-cent stake. But there is no suggestion that he has been convicted of any offence that would bar him from owning a top-flight club.

At the headquarters of Mr Belokon's holding company in Latvia, a spokeswoman said that the businessman was away travelling and would not be able to answer any questions related to Blackpool or his links to Mr Bakiyev.

"Maxim is a very ambitious person," said Edil Baisalov, former chief of staff for the Kyrgyz interim government, by telephone from Bishkek yesterday. "In a dirt-poor country, he wanted to squeeze out money to make himself into a local Abramovich. Part of that dream, of course, was owning an English football team."

Mr Baisalov said that authorities in Kyrgyzstan would hire British lawyers to prove that Mr Bakiyev is guilty both of corruption, and of fomenting the riots that have killed hundreds in the south of the country in the past week. Mr Bakiyev is believed to have applied for asylum in the UK.

"It is important that the English courts realise that he is an international terrorist of the highest order," said Mr Baisalov. "He has the resources and means to destroy the state of Kyrgyzstan. He is very dangerous and he has stolen millions of dollars from the people of Kyrgyzstan."

Maxim Bakiyev has never commented on any of these allegations, but his father, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, has repeatedly denied that any of the family members he installed in top state positions were involved in corruption; he has also denied any role in this week's riots.

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