Panorama, the BBC's investigative programme, broadcast the first part of their exposé of global finance and offshore jurisdictions this evening which included the anticipated scrutiny of the ownership of Everton FC and potential links to Alisher Usmanov.
The thrust of Panorama's investigation centres around a "gift" from Usmanov, the Uzbek-Russian tycoon who now owns 30% of Arsenal, to Farhad Moshiri 11 years ago which they assert provided the source of the funds from which the Iranian-born businessman raised the capital to buy into Everton last year. They claim that documents detail a £63m gift to Moshiri through Gallager Holdings Limited through Cyprus to FM Investments Limited.
Mr Moshiri claims that it was part of an employee incentive scheme, “a loan he had later paid back”, and had nothing to do with the initial purchase of a stake in Arsenal. At issue are Premier League rules that prohibit one person or entity owning more than 10% of one club investing in another.
Among documents that Panorama call the Paradise Papers are details that under the terms of Usmanov and Moshiri's purchase of a 15% stake in Arsenal through Epion Holdings Limited, Usmanov would gift monies from a dividend from Gallagher Holdings Limited to Moshiri “who will in turn invest the company” and that “the funding for Red and White [Holdings] has come from Epion Holdings Limited”.
Darragh MacIntyre Richard Bilton, says that Moshiri's lawyers have admitted that that was true but insist he put his own money into Arsenal later, presumably when Red and White increased their stake in the London club to almost 30%, a fact that the programme fails to point out.
Indeed, The Guardian's own scrutiny of the situation, in which they report having been shown a document in which Epion did acknowledge receiving payment from a company owned by Moshiri for his half of the Arsenal stake, in full, also quotes a spokesman of Everton's major shareholder:
“This cash payment [for the Arsenal shares] was funded by a 2007 dividend that Mr Moshiri received from an investment company which was 100% beneficially owned by Mr Moshiri. All of this is meticulously laid out in contractual agreements between the two parties.
“It is clear that Mr Moshiri's participation in Red and White originated from his own funds and that Mr Moshiri is a person of very significant independent wealth, and this was already true in 2007.”
MacIntyre collared Moshiri outside Goodison Park after the recent match between Arsenal and Everton, asking him if Mr Usmanov was the real owner of Everton. Moshiri rejected the notion, insisting that even if the money he had used was a gift, it would still have been his money, not a loan.
“Are you crazy?” Moshiri asked. “Have you seen a psychiatrist [recently]?
“It wasn't a gift [from Usmanov]. Where do you get this idea? It's untrue; it's not a gift.”
MacIntyre persisted: “Say Mr Usmanov gifted you the money which you then invested in Arsenal… You then sell your shares in Arsenal…”
“A gift makes it yours, right” Moshiri replied. “If it is a loan, you owe the money back to him. If it is a gift, it's yours.”
Asked which it was in this instance, Moshiri said: “Neither of them, because I paid for it.
“The [Premier League] have all the information. Instead of asking me, why don't you ask them. They have every piece of information.”
If Panorama did ask the Premier League for their side of the story, however, they did not include it in the documentary. Moshiri and his lawyers, meanwhile, later told the programme that any documents saying that the monies he received from Usmanov were a gift were a mistake.Lawyers for Usmanov told the BBC that there were "errors of fact and interpretation" in the Panorama allegations:
"Our client is not obliged at all to assist you in your enquiries. It is not for him to do your journalists' research which on its face appears to be biased."
Former Football Association head honcho, Greg Dyke, was asked for his opinion on what Panorama had uncovered and he suggested that if the Premier League knew of Usmanov's original gift to Moshiri, ”they either have done or would do their own investigation. They would have to be convinced this is an above-the-board transaction. There need to be come questions asked.”
The Premier League did do what was assumed to be a thorough vetting of the Blue Heaven Holdings deal in March last year and ratified Moshiri's investment at the time. Panorama doubt that they were aware of all the details.
Panorama also explored the links between Bridgewater Limited, a firm based in the Isle of Man that not only administered Moshiri's purchase of his stake in Everton but is also where Blue Heaven Holdings, the company through which the shares were purchased, itself is registered.
Panorama claim through the Paradise Papers that Bridgewater is actually a trust company owned by Usmanov but the programme blurs the narrative somewhat by appearing to conflate a denial by Bridgewater and the billionaire's lawyers that they own “the company” (Bridgewater) with their rejection of any “control or influence in the running of Everton Football Club”.
As with USM Holdings' sponsorship of Everton's Finch Farm training complex, Moshiri's directorship and part ownership of many of Usmanov's companies mean that the Uzbek-Russian's name is never too far from discussions about the Toffees' finances but the club and the Premier League have been satisfied to this point that there is no conflict of interest.
Whether the broadcast of these findings prompts any further investigation by the Premier League into the source of Moshiri's funds remains to be seen. Certainly, there would need to be proof that any loan from Usmanov to Moshiri over a decade ago was made with the intention that the latter would eventually sell up at Arsenal in order to buy into another Premier League club.