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League called in investigators to scrutinise Pompey owners

Nick Harris
Thursday 06 May 2010 00:00 BST

As the administrator, Andrew Andronikou, prepares to meet Portsmouth's creditors today to outline his plans for taking the club out of administration, The Independent can reveal that the Premier League has used corporate investigators to attempt to unravel Pompey's opaque ownership and control structure at different points since last summer.

Specifically, it is understood the League has tried to ascertain the mechanics of the deal that saw Portsmouth pass into – and then out of – the hands of a Saudi businessman, Ali al-Faraj, a man nobody at the League ever spoke to, let alone met.

Sources say the League has also been trying to confirm under whose authority a convicted fraudster, Daniel Azougy, was able to make important day-to-day decisions about the club's finances between October last year and February (during the Faraj regime) and what relationship, if any, Azougy had to other owners during the club's financial meltdown.

One source revealed that the League used "a Kroll-esque firm or firms" to look into the club. Kroll is the world's leading global corporate investigative, screening and intelligence firm. A spokeswoman for Kroll said: "Kroll maintains a strict confidentiality policy under which we neither confirm nor deny any client relationships." A Premier League spokesman declined to comment.

The League has long come under fire for the perceived weakness of its fit and proper person test, passed by Faraj and previous owners, which establishes whether a prospective owner is legally fit to be a company owner, namely free of specific convictions.

As senior League insiders now concede, more information is necessary for owners. The League's AGM next month will see the formal adoption of new conditions. From this summer, the League will have the right to demand face-to-face meetings with would-be owners, and request proof of funding and business plans before takeovers.

The level of interest shown by the football authorities into the ownership and financial affairs of Portsmouth has been unprecedented.

The involvement of Faraj is arguably the single most perplexing episode in a farcical and desperate year for Pompey. The club was put up for sale last summer by the then owner, Sacha Gaydamak. A group nominally headed by Faraj tried to buy it, but Gaydamak sold instead to Sulaiman al-Fahim, a Dubai businessman.

Fahim failed to come up with the money to take the club forward, so it was sold again, this time to a company called Falcondrone, registered in the British Virgin Islands and owned by Faraj, who has never been to Portsmouth. It is understood Yoram Yossifoff, an Israeli lawyer who advises Faraj, was representing Falcondrone.

Falcondrone, in need of money, borrowed £17m from a Hong Kong-based businessmen, Balram Chainrai, who saw the loan as a good commercial prospect. When Falcondrone defaulted on repayment, Chainrai became owner in February. With the club in a parlous financial situation, they subsequently entered administration.

Andronikou will meet the creditors today and within a week to 10 days, he will make a formal offer, of around 23p in the pound, to creditors. Within 28 days of that offer, creditors will vote to accept the offer or not.

Chainrai, who has promised Portsmouth fans he will make every effort to save the club, says he never knew Faraj personally and had no direct involvement in the Faraj regime. Chainrai told The Independent yesterday: "I have known Yoram Yossifoff for two years and had a good business relationship with him. In July last year he asked me if I wanted to make a loan to a consortium that was planning to buy Portsmouth. They were trying to raise additional funds and offered to pay interest on my loan.

"I did not know any of the consortium personally, but trusted Mr Yossifoff who assured me he would carry out due diligence before the funds were cleared. I transferred the sum of £2.5m to London.

"Subsequently Mr Yossifoff reported back to me that the investment was not needed and the money was returned to me in full. The first time I became involved at Portsmouth was in October, when I made a short-term bridge finance of £17m.

"I had no involvement at all in the running of the club between October and February, when we were forced to take over the club to protect our investment. I therefore had no knowledge of what Daniel Azougy's role was."

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