If you were wondering what Portsmouth chairman Sulaiman Al-Fahim was up to during “his” club’s time of ultimate crisis, now we know. He’s in Moscow, “part of an official UAE delegation promoting the chess industry” (chess is an “industry”?). With Siberia not open for its old business, Moscow is about as far away from Portsmouth as any fan could wish Al-Fahim to be. Some may have criticised him for his (very) uncharacteristically low-profile since Portsmouth’s troubles have become near-terminal. When the going gets tough, the tough don’t usually concentrate on chess. And he was whingeing for Abu Dhabi when the club sacked Paul Hart as manager without consulting him (“as chairman of the club, they should have run this by me”). But most would have happily never heard from him again.
When the News of the World’s Alex Crook revealed that Al-Fahim had “launched a shock bid” to buy back the 90% of the club that he’d sold to the semi-mythical Ali Al-Faraj, most people just smiled and walked away. After all, with Al-Fahim’s ownership record and inability to produce requisite finances, there’s no way the Premier League would… you know where this is heading. Now, however, it has emerged that Al-Fahim is the subject of an arrest warrant back in his native land, concerning huge amounts of money connected to a land deal, there’s no way the Premier Lea… (see above). In keeping with Al-Fahim’s small-time status, he is ‘only’ the subject of a local arrest warrant, not an international one, like Arcadi Gaydamak, who has never been anything to do with Portsmouth at any stage. Ever.
The issue, you might not be surprised to learn, pre-dates his passing of the Premier League’s “fit and proper persons test.” Last January, a Dubai court ruled that Al-Fahim should repay an investor from Azerbaijan approximately £1.5m after a promised property development in Dubai failed to go ahead. The repayment covered the (anonymous) Azeri’s original investment plus legal fees and the court further ruled that a “daily penalty” of 9% should be imposed for as long as the debt remained unpaid, a rate with which only the Glazer family could feel comfortable. What did Al-Fahim have to say about this? Clearly, he had said nothing to the Premier League when undergoing their stringent examination of his fitness and propriety last July. But, inevitably, he had something to say to Arabian Business magazine, and its ‘journalist’ Anil Bhoyrul, in particular.
The magazine provided a regular bolt-hole for Al-Fahim’s PR-exercises last summer as his Portsmouth takeover, and then ownership, lurched from crisis to crisis. Bhoyrul “exclusively” revealed all kinds of everything about Al-Fahim’s plans, all of which were pipedreams. Bhoyrul, you may remember, shot to fame in this country a few years back for his involvement in a share-tipping scandal which engulfed the Mirror newspaper. Bhoyrul and his co-author of the paper’s City Slickers column, James Hipwell, received custodial sentences, while the paper’s editor Piers Morgan… didn’t. True to form, Bhoyrul gave Al-Fahim the freedom of the page to re-write the story, under the headline “I am innocent, I am the victim”. Most casual observers could be forgiven for thinking Al-Fahim made this up.
“I am positive it will be resolved very soon,” Al-Fahim said, as if it was his Portsmouth takeover all over again. “It is quite straightforward,” he claimed, before regaling us with a tale – of owned towers, sold land, bounced cheques and people impersonating him from their jail cells – that wasn’t straightforward at all. Al-Fahim said he “owned a tower but sold the plot of land” to “another party.” This other “party’s” cheque bounced. And although this meant the party failed to obtain the land and although he has “since been jailed”, for reasons not detailed, he was still able “to sell the development using my name, effectively claiming I am involved”. A neat trick, I’m sure you’ll agree. The Dubai Property Court didn’t agree. Court papers said the Azeri investor bought two floors of the Sky Tower development in the evocatively-named Business Bay, in 2006, signing purchase contracts with Al-Fahim’s “Al-Buraq” development company and paying the sought-after £1.5m up front for development work. This was due for completion by December 2008, but one year into the project, it hadn’t even started – it still hasn’t. So the investor “decided to investigate.” And he “discovered” that the land didn’t belong to Al-Buraq, because it “did not meet the terms of the deal that had been agreed” (sound familiar, Pompey fans?).
In November 2008, Al-Fahim’s legal team said that Al-Buraq had sold the land/floors to Ghantoot Star General Trading, whose owner is also the subject of an arrest warrant, and asked for Al-Fahim’s “name to be dropped” from the case. The court refused, pointing out that the relevant contracts had been signed in 2006. Al-Fahim faces arrest when he returns home from his chess jolly, which will surely be very soon as “I believe in the UAE judiciary system led by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed, I know that it is a fair system.” It is, of course, that very system which has ruled that Al-Fahim owes the money and has issued the arrest warrant. “Let’s be clear, this is actually a civil case and not a criminal one,” Al-Fahim also ventured, a propos of nothing at all.
It may be that Al-Fahim isn’t spinning a delusional fantasy on this occasion. Who is to say the Dubai Property Courts have got the story straight after a year-long investigation? Who is to disbelieve what Al-Fahim has told his friend Anil Bhoyrul? Alongside the article are links to “related stories” including “Al-Fahim – I sold Portsmouth for zero pounds.” But who is to let that undermine their confidence in the veracity and context of Fahim’s latest claims? Any jury would be asked to dismiss past Bhoyrul stories such as “UAE tycoon takes over Portsmouth FC” (27 May 2009 – three months before Al-Fahim took over Portsmouth FC), “Portsmouth FC deal will be done by July 11” (24 June 2009 – two months before any “deal” was “done”) and “Maradona will bring Villa and Eto’o to Portsmouth” (23 July 2009 – date of arrival to be advised). Whatever the truth, Al-Fahim is a bit-part actor in Portsmouth’s story. A little like Peter Trembling in the increasingly-grim Notts County tale, there are far worse protagonists than the delusional fantasist Sulaiman Al-Fahim, as Portsmouth fans have since discovered. He is but the comedy in Portsmouth’s tragedy. That, however, is a tragedy in itself.