English courts order ex-Leeds United boss to pay back money taken from club's owners

A court ruling ordering former Leeds United boss David Haigh to re-pay millions in money he was convicted of siphoning off has been upheld by the English courts.

By Susie Beever
Wednesday, 27th May 2020, 6:00 am
David Haigh
David Haigh

Mr Haigh was convicted by courts in Dubai in 2015 of breach of trust, after it was found he had embezzled nearly £4m in funds from his previous employer GFH Capital Ltd, a Middle East-based private equity company which owned the club at the time.

A subsequent Dubai court ruling in July 2018 ordered that Mr Haigh had to repay the money to GFH, a ruling that Mr Haigh continues to contest.

Sums of £2,039,793.70, AED 8,735,340 and USD $50,000 were awarded in damages to GFH, after Mr Justice Cook ruled Mr Haigh had caused the sums to be paid into the bank accounts of himself and a close friend.

Former Leeds United managing director David Haigh, pictured at a match in 2014

GFH has since brought proceedings in the High Court to enforce the 2018 ruling, which was upheld by Mr Justice Henshaw at a hearing last Tuesday.

In the ruling, Mr Justice Henshaw found that Mr Haigh had "no real prospect" of successfully defending the order to repay money he was found to have stolen from GFH.

The ruling quoted previous Dubai judge Mr Justice Cook as saying: “No-one has ever come forward with a coherent explanation for the fact that large sums of money found their way into the bank accounts of [Mr Haigh] and that false invoices were created with payment instructions which disguised the receipt of those sums by [him]”.

Mr Haigh spent more than two years in prison over the fraud, after he was brought to the UAE and arrested in May 2014. Upon his release and return to England in 2016, Mr Haigh has repeatedly claimed his human rights were breached before and during his incarceration.

David Haigh, pictured at a press conference announcing GFH Capital's taking over ownership of Leeds United Football Club

The ruling, which was handed out remotely on Tuesday afternoon, May 19, added: “Mr Haigh makes a number of contentions about the jurisdiction of the DIFC Court under the law of Dubai and/or the UAE. He argues that the DIFC Court did not have jurisdiction to make findings of fraud, and that it did not have jurisdiction when there were proceedings before the ‘onshore’ Dubai court at the same time.”

It continues: “In any event, however, the evidence before me provides no good reason to doubt the conclusions as to jurisdiction reached by the DIFC Court of Appeal and Justice Sir Jeremy Cooke, and on that basis I am satisfied that the DIFC Court had jurisdiction according to its own law. The general position is that a foreign judgement is final and conclusive as to any matter adjudicated by it, regardless of any error of fact or law.”

Following the ruling, Mr Haigh - who has previously tried and failed to stop proceedings, citing medical grounds - said in a statement: “It’s clear that a judge that was appointed only in December 2019 has played safe in this first instance and kept all avenues open.”

Mr Haigh said he was “disappointed” by GFH’s “attempt to claim the nonsensical sum”, adding he was “not surprised”.

Elland Road

He added: “Britain cannot recognise the unsafe nature of the Dubai justice system and then use British enforcement mechanisms to enact Dubai court judgements – it would be a form of lawlessness; of legal thuggery.”

“As such, I am irritated by [the] judgement but very confident that British justice will triumph over Dubai’s corrupt regime in the long run.”