MPs Demand United ownership probe

Ken Bates:Picture Gareth Copley PA
Ken Bates:Picture Gareth Copley PA
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AN INFLUENTIAL parliamentary committee has urged the Football Association to carry out a “thorough investigation” into the recent ownership history of Leeds United.

And the Culture, Media and Sport select committee says the FA should bring in HM Revenue and Customs if it feels extra assistance is required.

The calls come in a wide-ranging report on the running of football in England. In it, MPs on the committee say there should be “complete transparency” around ownership, adding “there is no more blatant an example of lack of transparency than the recent ownership history of Leeds United”.

They also say they have concerns over club chairman Ken Bates’s purchase of a controlling stake in the Whites this year.

Responding to the report, however, a club spokesman said: “There can’t be much wrong with football if the biggest concern is the ownership of Leeds United.”

The select committee heard evidence in March from Leeds chief executive Shaun Harvey, with Bates unable to attend the session at Burnley FC’s Turf Moor ground because he was suffering from bronchitis.

Harvey told the MPs that United’s principal shareholder was an offshore company called Forward Sports Fund (FSF) Limited.

At the time it held just over 70 per cent of the issued shares in the club on behalf of three discretionary trusts based in Switzerland.

Harvey confirmed he did not know the names of the main beneficiaries of the trusts, an arrangement he said was not unusual.

Bates then revealed in May that he had bought out FSF’s stakeholding for an undisclosed fee.

In yesterday’s report, the select committee says: “This announcement ... raised further governance concerns, as it was not at all clear why the trusts should sell a financially-sound, upwardly-mobile club without at least seeking alternative bids to find the best price.”

It also says: “We were ... concerned as to why, until very recently, the Football League appeared content to allow Leeds United to play in its competition without the Football League or the FA or Leeds United fans knowing who owned the club.”

The report’s conclusions and recommendations section says: “There should be complete transparency around ownership and the terms of loans provided by directors to the club.

“In this respect, there is no more blatant an example of lack of transparency than the recent ownership history of Leeds United, and we urge the FA to demonstrate its new resolve by conducting a thorough investigation and, if necessary, to seek the assistance of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.”

Monaco-based Bates has been chairman at Leeds since 2005, when FSF took control of the Whites from Gerald Krasner’s so-called ‘Yorkshire consortium’.

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