It is not often that one can say with any degree of confidence that someone in football is a crook and have evidence to back it up, but the usual caveats do not apply in the cases of Jeremy Keith, Murdo McKay and Andrew McKenzie, formerly of Derby County, who were imprisoned last week over their involvement with the Championship club. Mackenzie and Mackay were both sentenced to three years in prison having being found guilty of conspiracy to defraud the club. Keith was sentenced to 18 months having been convicted of false accounting. in addition to these three, their Monaco-based lawyer David Lowe was imprisoned for two years for money laundering. Keith, McKay and McKenzie have also been barred from acting as company directors.
The charges related to the take-over of the club, in 2003. The allegation was that Keith, McKay and McKenzie had claimed £125,000 plus VAT each from the club without gaining that prior consent of the directors of the club for what seems to have been pretty spurious “consultancy services” at the time of the takeover. The “consultants” had been paid for apparently sourcing a £15m loan from a Panamanian company called the ABC Corporation, but this “fee” was funnelled out of the country and into an Isle of Man company called Streamline Management, which was owned by Lowe. This, however, may not even have been the full extent of the murkiness going at Pride Park at the time.
The involvement of “The ABC Corporation” may ring bells at several English football clubs. This company is said to be by owned by Michael Hunt, who is a man with chequered history. As a director hugely Nissan’s franchise in the UK, Hunt was imprisoned for eight years in 1993 for what was at the time the UK’s biggest ever tax fraud. The company had been rumoured to have lent Queens Park Rangers £10m in 2002 at a time when the club was facing receivership and had been warned by the Football League that they would not be allowed to start the 2002/03 season unless they exited administration. The appalling terms of the loan, however, meant that Rangers managed to stay in a state of financial flux until their buy out by Flavio Briatore in November 2007. There was also talk last year that ABC was behind s loan of a similar size to Sheffield Wednesday.
McKay, a former Director of Football at Derby, alleged in 2006 that the £375,000 had been split between him, Keith and McKenzie, but the other two denied ever having received any of this money. By this time, the club’s supporters trust, Ramstrust, were publically voicing their concerns over the involvement of these people in their club. They were vindicated by the summing up of the judge, who was scathing in his assessment of Keith, McKay, McKenzie and Lowe. “The spectre of prominent members of society behaving in such a dishonest way on this scale, without any apparent hesitation, conscience or remorse, is very unedifying and can only be dealt with by immediate custodial sentences”, said Judge Ian Alexander QC, adding that, “You are all mature, intelligent men with no previous convictions and all of you no doubt have in many other ways acted admirably during your lives, but you have now all been found guilty by a jury of serious offences”.
At the time, the club’s support was divided between those that viewed them as saviours and those that were suspicious of their motives, but the superb rearguard work of the trust ensured police involvement by 2006. Anyone that doubts the role that supporters trusts play should take particular notice of this case. It was their insistence and hard work which ensured that justice was eventually done in the case of Derby County. It should also come as no surprise that there are parasites such as these – and they are far from the only ones or, one suspects, the worst offenders – involved in the running of football clubs. As much as we can do is to continue to try and flush them out.