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Prospective club owners barred after covert inquiry

The Premier League employs experts in corporate intelligence to investigate prospective takeovers, and has used the information gathered to reject putative owners. The revelation was made as the Culture, Media and Sport select committee heard evidence for its inquiry into football governance at the House of Commons yesterday.

Niall Quinn, the chairman of Sunderland, disclosed the information while being questioned by Members of Parliament as to whether the Premier League enquired sufficiently into prospective foreign owners. "We have really tightened up since Portsmouth's demise," said Quinn. "Now we have an international company who will covertly tell us everything we need to know."

Tony Scholes, chief executive of Stoke City, who was also giving evidence, said: "A number of people who have wanted to take over clubs have been prevented from doing so. It is positive for the game we do this. It means everyone knows that someone who takes over a club is OK."

It is understood that Ahsan Ali Syed, who attempted to take over Blackburn Rovers earlier this season, was one of those who withdrew after the Premier League's investigators, who work for an international law firm, raised doubts about him. Ali Syed has subsequently bought Racing Santander in Spain and has been quoted suggesting he they can be the "third team" in Spain after Barcelona and Real Madrid.

The Premier League privately admit they acted too slowly, and too leniently, when Portsmouth began their slide towards administration. The rule book has since been overhauled with clubs having to provide more information, more regularly, about their finances. The Fit and Proper test for owners and directors has also been stiffened.

However, the president of the Football League, Lord Mawhinney, admitted that they were unable to investigate prospective owners in such depth because "it cannot afford" the cost of doing so.

In his submission Mawhinney also reiterated his opposition to the notorious "football creditors rule" which means football debts, such as to other clubs and players, are paid first and in full when a club goes into administration ahead of other debts, such as local businesses.

It was "morally indefensible" he said, and "cranks up expenditure" at clubs.