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MPs cry foul as new investors move into football

Ukrainian footballer Igor Belanov (right) is the major stakeholder in FC Wil Keystone

The flow of eastern European money into Western football clubs, such as FC Wil in Switzerland and Chelsea in Britain, is causing concern among some politicians.

This content was published on March 4, 2004 - 19:03

A Swiss parliamentarian has tabled a motion in the Council of Europe calling for stricter checks on the background of investors and into the origin of their money.

In July, Ukrainian investors bailed out the ailing Swiss team, FC Wil, acquiring a 51 per stake in the club for SFr1.1 million.

In the same month, the Russian oil tycoon, Roman Abramovich, caused an uproar when he bought the heavily-indebted British football club, Chelsea, for SFr315 million ($243 million).

Abramovich, whose net worth is estimated at SFr7 billion, then proceeded to pump almost SFr250 million of his personal fortune into acquiring fresh talent for the premier division team.

Shady investment

But Maximilian Reimann, a member of the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) and of the Council of Europe’s sub-commission for sport and youth, believes these investments should come under closer scrutiny.

To date, his motion has been signed by 17 members of the Council, including six Swiss.

One of them is the Social Democrat parliamentarian, Andreas Gross, who says the group is worried that eastern European investors are buying clubs for dubious reasons.

“The main concern is that this is a way of sidelining public money duties, of avoiding paying taxes and perhaps even of laundering money,” Gross told swissinfo.

“The whole sport industry is being used for this. Of course, Chelsea is the most visible case, but there is [also] a much smaller amount of Ukrainian money going into the Swiss football [league].”

Surprise

The Swiss Football League’s director, Edmond Isoz, is bemused by the decision to turn the game’s financing into a political issue – particularly as FC Wil, a small club in northeastern Switzerland, is not in the same league as Chelsea.

“I’m surprised that a Swiss citizen is making this proposal because we’ve only had to deal with eastern investors once with Wil,” he told swissinfo.

“But in Europe, we’ve seen the intervention of eastern European countries in big teams such as Chelsea and there’s talk about the same happening at AS Roma in Italy,” said Isoz.

Swiss checks

Isoz says that Swiss football clubs always check the origin of funds by getting a signed declaration from a Swiss bank.

But he admits it is sometimes difficult to trace the money before it reaches Switzerland.

“It’s really difficult to be sure about [what] happens to the money before it reaches Switzerland,” he told swissinfo.

“We have the declaration from the Swiss bank but perhaps the money goes from eastern Europe to South America, then to North America and then comes back to Europe - it is difficult to know.”

Isoz adds that between 80 and 90 per cent of European football clubs are currently losing money.

All the more reason, say supporters of the Council of Europe motion, to know as much as possible about who is investing in them.

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold

In brief

In July 2003, the Russian tycoon, Roman Abramovich bought the British football club Chelsea for SFr315 million.

He spent SFr250 million on the transfer market to buy players such as Juan Sebastian Veron from Argentina and the Irish player, Damien Duff.

In Switzerland, Ukrainian investors poured SFr1.1 million into FC Wil.

Represented by the former Ukrainian footballer, Igor Belanov, the Spanish firm “New Building Design” is now the major stakeholder in the club.

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