Unravelling the Guernsey connection

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The Independent Online

The aftermath of the criminal prosecution brought against Stanley Tollman could shed some light on the long-standing mystery over Chelsea's ownership before the club's takeover by the Russian oligarch, Roman Abramovich. There has been widespread speculation that Tollman, a friend and business partner of Ken Bates, was for a long time the owner of a substantial tranche of Chelsea shares held in Guernsey.

The prosecutors - and no doubt the banks - in the Tollman case are seeking seizure of any property obtained by the defendants as a result of their alleged fraud and tax evasion offences. If Tollman did indeed own the Chelsea shares and is found guilty, the prosecutors will be keen to trace what happened to them after they were sold.

The ownership of Chelsea shares prior to the sale by Bates to Abramovich is already being investigated in this country by the Financial Services Authority, while Guernsey's Financial Services Commission is investigating Harbour Trustees, a company of which Patrick Murrin, a director of Chelsea Village from 1996 until this summer, was a director.

The FSA investigation may have to unravel the mystery of who owned the large anonymous stake in Chelsea, managed by Murrin via a Guernsey company, Swan Management. When Chelsea floated in 1996, 66.61 per cent of the shares were managed by Swan for unnamed backers. Swan still managed 26.3 per cent when they were sold in June last year. Murrin was a director of Swan and its representative on the Chelsea Village board until July, when Abramovich bought out Bates.

There has been speculation that Tollman was in fact the ultimate owner of these shares held in Guernsey by Swan. When Bates bought Chelsea in 1982, for £1, Tollman became a director, a position he held until 1992. However, Bates has always refused to reveal the identity of the anonymous shareholders.

The sale of the shares last year came shortly after the indictment of Tollman.

Swan's whole 26.3 per cent stake was sold, with Bates buying around 12 per cent for 18p per share, £3.6m in total, bringing his stake up to 29.5 per cent, held offshore in the British Virgin Islands. Swan's other 14 per cent were bought on behalf of unnamed backers by five separate trusts, based in the BVI and other offshore havens.

The FSA announced in July that it is investigating whether "the market was misled as to the true ownership of Chelsea Village", following information received "suggesting that the publicly disclosed shareholdings of certain parties may have been inaccurate."

As Swan's stake was held in Guernsey, where owners can hide their identities, it has never been possible to find out whether Tollman was behind them. However, according to the US prosecutors, Murrin, a Chelsea director managing the Guernsey shares, was indeed managing some of Tollman's affairs in Guernsey.

Abramovich, who now owns Chelsea outright and has taken the club off the Stock Exchange as he plots a bright new football future, will no doubt be keeping an eye out for further revelations about its past.

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