When Munto Finance, apparently funded by the QADBAK investment group, took over the running of Notts County Football Club during the summer, much was made of the lofty ambitions that the new owners had for its new acquisition. What was taken for granted was that these guys had money. Serious money. They were paying for Sven Goran Eriksson. They were paying for Sol Campbell. They would be in the Championship in three years. Regardless of the rights or wrongs of the moral aspects of what had happened at the club over the sale, their supporters would be guaranteed success.
On the pitch things started reasonably well, although things have started to go a little of sour of late. At the time of writing, Notts County have dropped to seventh place in League Two and have won just twice in their last eight matches. Sol Campbell came and went without the world ever receiving a full explanation for the reasons behind his departure. Manager Ian McParland unsurprisingly lasted just a couple of months before departing. His replacement, Hans Backe, comes with an impressive CV (assisting Eriksson at Manchester City and with the Mexico job, as well as Danish championships with FC Copenhagen and spells with SV Salzburg and Panathinkaikos) but he has so far been unable to turn the teams form around on the pitch.
Off the pitch, however, as many questions about the club’s ownership have been raised as answers have been given. The club’s chief executive, Peter Trembling, has at no point done anything to dissuade the notion that there is massive, massive money behind the club. Trembling repeatedly described the money men behind the club as being from the “Middle East”, but then the club published the names of a former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Dr Moeen Qureshi, and Anwar Shafi as being investors in the club. Both men, however, denied any involvement in the club. All of which, of course, doesn’t even take into account the bare fact that Pakistan isn’t in the Middle East. The club passed the Fit & Proper Persons Test set by the Football League, but it remains uncertain if anyone knows exactly who the clubs owners are.
The latest twist in the tale has come from the motor racing press. Previous misgivings about the new owners in the press were dispelled as rumour-mongering, jealousy or vendettas, but these are hardly allegations that can be laid at the door of the motor racing press, who obviously have no interest in the goings-on at Meadow Lane. Their interest in Qadbak comes from the investment company’s proposed take-over of the BMW Sauber Formula One team. BMW is keen to offload the team, which has lost its place on the grid for next season but has been expected to get it back before the start of next season because of other withdrawals from the competition.
However, last weekend the Swiss newspaper Sonntagszeitung reported that the main man behind Qadbak is the convicted British fraudster Russell King and that the myriad companies set up relating to Qadbak over the last few months are merely shell companies covering his tracks. It’s worth taking a moment to consider some direct quotations from these sites:
According to emerging reports, it appears that Qadbak – which also recently acquired the Notts County football team in England and was supposedly backed by a couple of reclusive, wealthy Middle Eastern families – is little more than a string of shell companies for a convicted British fraudster based in Dubai. Autoblog.com
King planned to tap into the commercial rights revenue that BMW Sauber earned for finishing sixth in the constructors’ title chase in the 2009 F1 World Championship. Racer.com
It is said that the FIA are suspicious both of King’s motives and financial backing, and are unwilling to allocate the grid slot to Sauber until they are convinced the money is there to guarantee the future of the Hinwil-based outfit and its hundreds of employees. BMW is similarly understood to be becoming increasingly alarmed at the lack of solid funding behind the deal, which Qadbak states is guaranteed by Bahrain Capital International. Crash.net
Qadbak’s guarantee from Bahrain Capital International was, stated Sonntagzeitung, no more than a shell company owned by Russell King, though the choice of name is interesting. A company of the same name was sold to a company called First London Holdings through a reverse take-over in October 2008 with one of the provisos of the sale being that the shareholdings couldn’t be disposed of for a year. In October of this year, First London Asset Management, part of the First London Holdings group was, according to their own press release, was sold in October to Swiss Commodity Holdings, a company already linked with Notts County – County even appear to have incorporated the “H” from SCH’s logo into their badge.
First London Holdings had previously attempted to purchase shares in the Belgravia Group, but this was blocked by the Jersey financial authorities during the summer of 2008, shortly before Belgravia’s Jersey headquarters were raided by police last year and the company was the subject of a criminal investigation while the courts wound it up because of “inadequate management”. Prior to that, Belgravia had made an attempt to buy Eddie Jordan’s Formula One racing team and Newcastle United in 2006 whilst in January 2005 it was reported that they in turn were involved with a company called FixTelecom.
FixTelecom were a Norway-based company owned by yet another company called Unofon, who were majority owned by… the Belgravia Group. FixTelecom pulled speed skating, of all things, into crisis in Norway after they paid just a quarter of a sponsorship deal signed with The Norwegian Speed Skating Federation in January 2005 before collapsing in the summer of that year. The federation itself narrowly avoided bankruptcy, and what is significant about this is that Unofon’s main contact with Belgravia Group was, according to this article in the Sunday Sun, one Russell King. All roads, it seems, lead back to him.
So, the longer that time goes on the less likely it seems that there are any rich foreign investors ploughing money into Notts County at the moment. The Jordan take-over failed in 2006, and the rumour currently doing the rounds in Formula One circles is that the BMW-Sauber deal will collapse because the FIA simply don’t believe that Qadbak has the money to be able to safeguard the future of the team. Is this assortment of companies buying up (or, in the case of Notts County, more of less being given) assets in the hope of attracting investment that it doesn’t currently have? Still, Sven doesn’t care where the money was coming from, so everything’s okay, right?
Edit: As if by magic, The Guardian brings us bang up to date on the situation, and now it seems likely that the Football League are to get involved again. This is essential reading.