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Friday, April 14, 2006

ABC, QPR & Derby County - Looking Back

Given current developments at Derby County (see for example, David Conn, Today's Guardian " Derby County chairman quits as police investigate"
http://football.guardian.co.uk/News_Story/0,,1753753,00.html ) instructive to read just some of the past stories re ABC, and their involvement with QPR & Derby. Many, many other news stories and fan speculation can be found on the web.

David Conn - The Independent April 9, 2005

Michael Hunt, the former managing director of Nissan UK, who was sentenced to eight years for his role in the largest tax fraud ever perpetrated in Britain, is, according to sources, the man behind the ABC Corporation, a Panama-registered company which has lent pounds 10m and pounds 15m to Queen's Park Rangers and Derby County respectively, and has mortgages on both Loftus Road and Pride Park.Hunt was convicted in 1993 of conspiring to cheat the Inland Revenue, after Southwark Crown Court heard that for nine years Hunt, along with the company's chairman Octav Botnar and another director, had orchestrated a 'truly massive' tax fraud, by using bogus invoices and a sham shipping agent to siphon pounds 149.2m from the company and launder it through offshore companies, depriving the Inland Revenue of pounds 56.3m tax and pounds 36m interest.Botnar stayed in Switzerland and refused to come back to face trial, although he later agreed a settlement with the Inland Revenue. Hunt, however, who was said by the prosecution to have made pounds 30m personally from the frauds, and another former Nissan UK director, Frank Shannon, were convicted for their parts in the scam. Hunt appealed, but his conviction and sentence were upheld in May 1994. QPR, who had long been in administration following their financial collapse under Chris Wright's ownership, borrowed pounds 10m from the ABC Corporation in May 2002, at an interest rate of 10%, pounds 1m a year, a huge amount for the once-chirpy club to pay. Companies registered in Panama, a tax haven, do not have to disclose their shareholders or directors, but in March 2003 rumours began to circulate on QPR fans' messageboards that Hunt was behind ABC.After ABC provided the money, a 'consultant legal adviser,' Philip Englefield, became a director of QPR to represent ABC's interests on the club's board. The club's supporters' trust, QPR 1st , then discovered that in 1991 Englefield had been struck off the roll of solicitors by the Law Society for improperly taking nearly pounds 900,000 from his firm's clients' bank account.QPR asked him to stand down, which he did, although he continued to act as ABC's contact, a role the club said he discharged professionally. Englefield, it turns out, had also been convicted of theft and fraud offences for taking pounds 4.7m from his firm's client account, and been sentenced in March 1993 to seven years in prison, reduced to six on appeal. A year later, he wrote to The Sunday Times, praising the fish and chip supper, 'the gastronomic highlight of the week' " served up on Fridays in his prison.In October 2003, Derby County, relegated after six seasons in the Premier League and, under their former owner Lionel Pickering, sagging beneath pounds 31m debts, were suddenly put into receivership. The club and their ground were sold to a newly formed company, Sharmine Limited, and new directors were unveiled: Jeremy Keith, a 'business doctor' specialising in financially failing businesses, who had briefly been involved at Portsmouth FC before they went into administration in 1998; Steven Harding, an advertising executive, and a perhaps unlikely figure as the new chairman of Derby: John Sleightholme, a barrister and the deputy coroner for North Yorkshire.At the time the directors said they would not reveal who owned the club, a stance they have maintained ever since. A month later, it emerged that the pounds 15m finance for their takeover had come from the same ABC Corporation, registered in Panama City.Sleightholme had been previously involved in a venture with a former Scottish players' agent, Murdo MacKay, who, a few months later, joined Derby as the club's director of football. MacKay's own business career is somewhat chequered; he was a Fifa-registered players' agent for what he described as 11 'unblemished' years, but one of his companies, Inside Soccer Recruitment, which had a high-profile launch in 2001 and was backed by the former Rangers and England centre-back Terry Butcher among others, went bust just 18 months later, owing a large tax bill and leaving creditors, including a furious Butcher, unpaid.From 1993 to 1996, MacKay was made personally bankrupt after the failure of another recruitment agency, MMK Associates, when 19 creditors, ranging from the Inland Revenue to a furniture loan company, were left owed pounds 157,659. MacKay has, however, said he has put that behind him and is applying his knowledge of football to reviving Derby's fortunes.Last month, Sharmine Limited, which owns Derby, finally revealed who its owners are, but that only opened into a new layer of opaque anonymity in yet more tax havens: two of its shareholders are registered as companies in Belize, the other in the British Virgin Islands.Sources close to the deals, however, confirmed to me this week that Michael Hunt is the ultimate source of the ABC cash. He is understood to operate a family trust registered in Switzerland, whose size, the sources said, runs into 'nine figures'. A lawyer in Basle, Dr Hans Georg Hinderling, has represented ABC Corporation in their dealings with QPR.QPR's current board, chaired by lifelong Rangers fan Bill Power, who took the club over last year, has since been scathing about the ABC loan it inherited: 'It is scandalous,' Power told me, 'that we've been saddled with this debt, from a Panama corporation of all places, at such an outrageous interest rate.'David Davies, the chief executive at the time the deal was done, who is now working for London Wasps Rugby Club, maintained however that QPR had no alternatives at the time: 'Looking back, yes I am uncomfortable about the loan we had to take out, but no banks would lend to us. It was a matter of keeping the club in business.'At Derby, ABC replaced one load of debt, owed to Lombard and the Co-op Bank, with the money now owed to them. The club's directors have told the Supporters' Trust, Ramstrust, that the debts have increased another pounds 4m since they took over, to pounds 35m. Ted McMinn, the former Rams' winger who now commentates for BBC Radio Derby, has been a sceptic from the start: 'We know very little about these people, or why they took over,' he told me. 'They appear to have put no money in themselves, and the debt isn't getting smaller.'In a meeting with Ramstrust last December, Jeremy Keith said of Michael Hunt's rumoured involvement with ABC: 'We can't categorically say who is involved,' although Michael Hunt's name was not on any documentation and was not an officer of the organisation. This week John Sleightholme said they had had no dealings with Hunt.Nick Sellors, of Ramstrust, called for transparency: 'We want to know who owns our club, and why they have to maintain this level of secrecy.'On the field, however, Derby, led by their over-performing manager, George Burley, will be in the play-offs if they can maintain their current sixth place in the Championship. If they manage to pull off an unexpected promotion, they will sail into pounds 25m of Premier League riches, and the club's owners, whoever they are, will presumably be quids in. ABC may even be repaid. That is the football gamble: there is money to be made at the top.Nothing in the secretive, offshore financing and mortgages which prop up and weigh down Derby and QPR appears to be illegal. David Davies told me that in order to exit administration, QPR had had to satisfy the court that the loan came from 'legitimate sources, not illegal activities', and they had done so.This is instead, to its tangled roots, a tale of how football blew the greatest financial boom in its history, and where some of its grand old clubs have had to go to find the cash to stagger on.davidconn@independent.co.ukAdditional research by Matt Denver

David Conn/ The Independent November 8, 2003

THE IDENTITY of the so-called "mystery backer" that loaned pounds 15m to take Derby County from the Co-Op Bank's receivers a fortnight ago can now be revealed; and what could possibly reassure Derby fans more than to know their club is in debt and has mortgaged its celebrated new stadium to a faceless company registered in Panama?Quite why the newly appointed board at Derby, led by the new chairman, John Sleightholme, a barrister and the deputy coroner of South Yorkshire, felt compelled to withhold this news when he took over at the end of last month, is unclear. Mortgages have to be registered at Companies House, and so, a few days later, a document duly appeared on the public record which succinctly stated that: "All that freehold property known as Derby County Stadium Pride Park", is mortgaged to ABC Corporation, of Calle Aquilino de la Guardia no 8, Panama City, the Republic of Panama. This, of course, only gets anyone so far, which is one of the whole points of registering companies in Panama. The Panamanian Consulate in London proudly advertises on its website that a principal advantage for people registering "offshore corporations" in the country is that the Republic operates "the most secure confidentiality laws to be found anywhere." Companies must name officers, but these are usually lawyers working for the owners, whose identity does not have to be disclosed, and the companies do not have to file accounts or regular financial information.The other main advantage is that a company registered in Panama which does not actually operate in the country - like ABC Corporation and most of the 350,000 other companies registered there - pay no tax except a token annual administration fee. The consulate particularly stresses the advantages for banking: "The income derived is exempt from Panamanian taxes, which is a very attractive feature."The limited information available from the public registry in Panama City states that ABC Corporation was formed in October 1984. The address at Calle Aquilino de la Guardia is that of a law firm. Its first officers, a president, secretary and treasurer, were three Swiss lawyers, Peter Lenz, Marcel Muff and Hans Hinderling, who is a registered footballers' agent. Then in 1992 following a meeting at Hinderling's offices in Basle, the officers of the company were changed to lawyers in another offshore tax haven, the Bahamas: Richard Lightbourne, Hartis Pinder and Lourey Smith, of the firm McKinney Bancroft and Hughes in Nassau. But that's it. The identity of the owner, or the source of the money, is hidden.Derby themselves refused to elaborate this week, consistent with Sleightholme's statement when he took over with his fellow new directors, Steven Harding and Jeremy Keith - the prime mover of the takeover - that they would keep the source of the pounds 15m loan confidential. A club spokesman said the loan had been "passed" by the Football Association and League, but this does not mean that the source has been disclosed or vetted in any way. The FA has no system yet for vetting football club directors - the long-promised "fit and proper person test" - let alone to examine the ever more far- flung sources of finance to which many clubs are turning as ordinary banks pull out of the game with their fingers singed.The League did pass ABC Corporation's loan, but under a different rule, the one which prohibits one person or company having an interest in two clubs - as it turns out, the Panamanian nameplate is also on a sizeable loan outstanding at another club, Queen's Park Rangers, and ABC have a mortgage on their cosy old ground at Loftus Road.At QPR, a few details have seeped out since ABC Corporation of Panama City loaned pounds 10m last year, with which the club paid off outstanding debts, mainly to the majority shareholder, Chris Wright, and came out of administration. The interest rate was confirmed by QPR's chairman, Ross Jones, a banker, early this year, as 10 per cent annually; pounds 1m for the near-bust West London club to find, and a nice, tax-free earner for whoever is behind ABC. The club deals with a representative of the lender in London, Philip Englefield, who under his full name of Philip Anthony Devereux Englefield is currently registered as a director of several property companies which are based in Knightsbridge.In May 2002, as ABC's representative, Englefield was made a director of QPR, but then QPR 1st, the supporters' trust whose members have grown desperately concerned about the club's plight, discovered that in 1991 Englefield had been struck off the roll of solicitors by the Law Society. He had, the Law Society found, while a partner in a firm of solicitors in London W1, between July 1988 and June 1990, taken nearly pounds 900,000 from the firm's clients' bank account, in 91 separate withdrawals, for payments "of a personal nature".At his hearing, Englefield admitted the offences, but argued in mitigation that he had been "foolish and desperate, and had not formed any intention to commit fraud." The Law Society described the hole in the firm's bank account as "of a very great magnitude", said the payments "were not made in error" and that "extraordinarily large sums of money were involved." They struck him off as a solicitor and ordered him to pay the costs of the hearing and the inquiry.Shortly after the Trust presented the club with their discovery, on 12 July 2002, Englefield resigned from the QPR board. He is, however, still the man, registered as a legal advisor to various companies, with whom QPR deal to make their regular monthly payments of pounds 83,333. David Davies, QPR's chief executive, confirmed that the club deals with Englefield, and said the relationship with him and ABC was similar to "any other mortgage company", and that their dealings so far had been cordial:"We made the difficult decision to borrow the pounds 10m or die last year because there was no other solution offering itself to enable us to come out of administration. ABC have been fair with us and they have not been predatory."As at Derby, QPR have never disclosed who is behind ABC; Davies has said it is a Swiss trust. There were some rumours earlier this year that the ultimate lender of the money was Michael Hunt, the former managing director of Nissan UK, who in June 1993 was jailed for eight years for his part - allegedly with Octav Botnar, the company's chairman - in siphoning off pounds 149.2m from Nissan UK and cheating the Inland Revenue out of pounds 56.3m, Britain's largest-ever tax fraud. Witnesses to the fraud were called from Panama and Bermuda, and the money, according to the prosecution, was laundered through Swiss bank accounts.In March this year Justin Pieris, QPR 1st chairman, wrote to Davies asking him to clarify whether the rumours that Hunt was the lender were true. Davies had previously officially denied rumours that Fulham's owner, Mohamed Al Fayed, was the lender, however this time he did not confirm or deny it, but replied that he was bound by confidentiality. Davies pointed out that in order to exit administration the club and its administrator, Ray Hocking of BDO Stoy Hayward, had had to satisfy the court that the loan came from "legitimate sources, not illegal activities, and that they had done so"."The most important element," Davies wrote, "is ensuring the loan repayments are met, not what the background of an individual may be. The speculation over who may or may not have been involved in the affairs of Nissan(UK) contribute little to meeting those obligations."That, indeed, is a crucial point. At both QPR and Derby, the loans have merely replaced one hefty creditor with one from Panama, leaving the clubs in the same debt and not increasing their earnings. It is believed to be costing QPR significantly more in interest, and the club is desperate for cash - Davies has budgeted for a loss around pounds 2.5m this season and said QPR will not make it to the end of the season if no new investor comes in. If the worst happens - and Davies said all QPR's directors have to contemplate the club might go bust - the Loftus Road ground, a nice potential development site in Shepherd's Bush, will be repossessed by a Panamanian Corporation, represented here by a struck-off solicitor involved in property investment.At Pride Park, a symbol of the game's new dawn in 1997 when football was coming home and QPR were floating on the Stock Market, Derby would not confirm the interest the stricken club will be paying on its new pounds 15m loan to Panama, or any other details. No doubt, as at QPR, a few odd specks will come out in the wash.davidconn@independent.co.uk

Derby Evening TelegraphNovember 21, 2003
Who Lives In A House Like This?

month has passed since Lionel Pickering's chairmanship of Derby County came to an end, when the club was put into receivership by the Co-op Bank. Mr Pickering, who pumped millions of pounds into the club and got nothing back, was one of Derby's more colourful characters. But new chairman John Sleightholme, four weeks into his tenure at the Rams, remains as enigmatic as ever. Reporter Daniel Bentley took a look around the West Yorkshire village Mr Sleightholme calls home, in search of the Derby connection. At least the lady behind the counter in Boston Spa News and Booze knew that one of her customers was the new chairman of Derby County, even if she didn't know his name."I only know him as a customer," she said, unconcerned. "I just heard about it the other day, but nobody's had much to say about it." Nobody in Boston Spa - a small village in West Yorkshire - appears to support the Rams, with the exception of barrister John Sleightholme, who lives in a bungalow around the corner from the paper shop.Nobody in Boston Spa appears to care, either, that one of their fellow villagers became chairman of Derby County last month, while some seem positively reluctant to believe it. That might be because his home is so relatively modest by the standards of most football chairmen, as villagers readily point out - an ordinary bungalow on an ordinary street, 80 miles drive from Pride Park.It certainly isn't Ednaston Manor, the country house on the A52 to Ashbourne which is occupied by Lionel Pickering, Mr Sleightholme's predecessor at the head of the board table at Pride Park Stadium.Despite humble beginnings - he was a reporter for the Derby Evening Telegraph in the 1950s - Mr Pickering went on to become a multi-millionaire after setting up his free newspaper business, the Trader, which he sold in 1989 for £25m.Ednaston Manor was built in 1912, designed by famous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, whose other commissions included the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London, and Lindisfarne Castle in Northumberland.It was first owned by the Player family, who ran John Player cigarettes, and has nine bedrooms and five bathrooms.It has about 50 acres of parkland and pasture, while stables and farm buildings on the grounds contain room for five cars.When it was put up for sale in 1979, with an asking price of £250,000, Mr Pickering snapped it up.Another Lutyens-built house in Derbyshire, Eaton House in Repton, went on the market last year for more than £1m.Before Mr Pickering, the top job at Derby County was held by Robert Maxwell, an even more illustrious businessman from the world of newspapers, having been owner of the Daily Mirror since 1984.For 32 years until his mysterious death in 1991, Mr Maxwell lived at Headington Hill Hall in Oxford.Maxwell House, as it was jokingly referred to, was rented from Oxford City Council. But, as Mr Maxwell pointed out, it was the best council house in the country and his transport of choice was a helicopter.Gordon Wilkinson, who runs Wilkinson's butchers in the high street, found it hard to believe that somebody from the village had bought a First Division football club.Mr Wilkinson said: "That's a bit of a surprise to me that somebody who lives in that part of the village would take over a football club. That doesn't sound right, that."I would have thought houses there fetch about £200,000. There are a lot of rich people in this village, but they don't live around there."I would've thought that would be a bit modest for the chairman of Derby County."The next village, Linton, is where all the big noises live - the footballers and directors." Linton is home to former Rams midfielder Seth Johnson, along with his former Leeds United teammate Harry Kewell, who now plays for Liverpool.Peter Ridsdale, the colourful former chairman of Leeds United, now at Barnsley, also lives in Linton.Mr Wilkinson added: "Boston Spa is only a small village, so you get to know a lot of people around here, but I don't know a Sleightholme." Mr Pickering so much liked his local pub - the Yew Tree Inn at Ednaston - he bought it.For many years, visitors to the pub would see him in the lounge area, discussing the club's fortunes with the then manager, Jim Smith.Regulars in Boston Spa's local pub, the Crown Hotel, had not heard of Mr Sleightholme, although one had seen his name mentioned in the local paper, the Wetherby News, in connection with the takeover.Peter Thorne said: "I heard about it, but I don't know who the hell he is. I've lived here for 50 years and I've never heard of him." IF a picture was building of somebody who keeps himself to himself, his neighbour confirmed it. "John's a very private man, so I'm not saying anything," she said. "But he's a super neighbour." One group of people he is better known among are the members of Wetherby Golf Club, of which he has been a member for more than 10 years. He is described as a "mid-handicap" golfer.One member, who knows Mr Sleightholme, said: "He's very well-known there."If he's going to have a drink he will probably come down to the golf club. He comes down and chats and joins in the conversations."He's got plenty of friends, and he's quite generous in the club, donating trophies and things like that, and he's a good organiser." Football allegiances among the golf club regulars tend to converge around Yorkshire clubs, particularly nearby Leeds United, but also Rotherham United and the Sheffield clubs.His friends at the golf club were as surprised as most Rams fans at his appointment as Rams chairman last month.The golf club member said: "It was a big surprise and we really don't know how it came about. Leeds United is obviously the number one topic in here and he's certainly knowledgeable about football."But I don't think he's said who he supports. Doesn't he have connections in Derby, then?" he asked this reporter, baffled.If Mr Sleightholme does have connections in Derby, he has kept them under his hat so far.He certainly doesn't exactly carry the same kind of flamboyance as his Mr Pickering, let alone, Mr Maxwell."Oh no - chalk and cheese," his golfing friend added."He doesn't live particularly opulently. Their only indulgence is that they have a couple of good holidays a year, maybe three."He's certainly not very outgoing or particularly flamboyant." Apart from the golf club, his other regular haunts include the sober surroundings of the Yorkshire crown courts, in Leeds and Hull, where he is taken by his day job as a barrister.He is also deputy coroner for North Yorkshire.The judicial theme spreads to his Glaswegian wife, Maureen, who is well known in the nearby town of Wetherby, where she has been a magistrate for many years and was chairman of the bench until she resigned earlier this year.The story so far...From the moment John Sleightholme strode out in front of the baying media on the day he took over at Pride Park, there has been an air of mystery about the new regime.The initial press conference, Mr Sleightholme later conceded, was not an overwhelming success and left the attendant reporters scratching their heads about who the new owners of the club actually were.Mr Sleightholme, together with business financier Jeremy Keith and marketing entrepreneur Steve Harding, had taken over the club after it had been taken into receivership by the Co-op Bank.But the barrister, who was taking over as chairman from Lionel Pickering, said that the £15m that had made the takeover possible had been put up by someone else, who wished to remain anonymous.A week later, faced with another round of interviews, Mr Sleightholme clarified the situation. The ownership of the club was no mystery - he owned two-thirds, Mr Keith owned the other third.The mystery now surrounded the source of the £15m and the backgrounds of the three men who had taken over the club, with no apparent connection to Derby.The Evening Telegraph learned that the backer was a company called ABC Corporation, a Panamanian lending institution which also helped QPR out of administration with a £10m loan last year.No further details about ABC Corporation have emerged, owing to the secretive nature of company records in Panama, a South American tax haven.Mr Sleightholme did not enjoy the press conference on his first day in the job and is not comfortable with the spotlight the position has thrown on him as the figurehead for a football club which still attracts crowds of more than 20,000 people per match.As well as his job as a barrister, he is the deputy coroner for North Yorkshire - not a common background among football chairmen.The only clue to his interest in taking over an ailing football club is his involvement with Finance for Football, an Edinburgh-based company of which he was co-director.Mr Sleightholme said, at the time of the takeover, that Finance for Football had been "an idea about how you might finance professional clubs".But it never traded and Mr Sleightholme resigned from his position when it became clear he was to become the new chairman of Derby County last month, to avoid the possibility of a conflict of interests.

Derby Evening Telegraph November 1, 2003
Rams' Mystery Backer Revealed

The mystery backer which put up £15m for the takeover of Derby County is a company called ABC Corporation, the Evening Telegraph can reveal. A source close to the new Rams board confirmed that ABC Corporation had lent the money which allowed the club to reduce its debts with the Co-op Bank and clear a £4.65m loan.ABC Corporation's directors are Kevin Brewer (51) and Suzanne Brewer (48), of Birmingham, according to Companies House, the Government register of limited companies which states that the pair each hold more than 1,000 company appointments. ABC Corporation was created in September and a company of the same name helped Queen's Park Rangers out of administration with a £10m loan in March last year.QPR directors have never revealed the identities behind ABC although, last August, it emerged that the company was based in Panama - a South American tax haven.Like QPR, Derby County chairman John Sleightholme has refused to identify the source of the £15m loan used to take over the Rams, due to a confidentiality clause.The loan was used to reduce the club's debt with the Co-op Bank to about £16m and clear its debts with financial house Lombard.The club's debt remains the same, at about £31m, but is broken down into two £8m blocks to the Co-op and £15m to ABC Corporation.The source said: "What they've done is refinance the business. They've paid off old loans and taken out new loans."What's the benefit for the club? Because the old loans were in mortgage arrears, it meant the bank could repossess 'the house' tomorrow."The loans are now structured so that their affordability is in line with the business." The Evening Telegraph has also learned that the club is now directly owned by a new parent company called Sharmine Limited, which is owned by John Sleightholme and Jeremy Keith.After the previous parent company, Derby County Limited, was taken into receivership on Monday, October 20, all of the shares in the club were sold to Sharmine, which was set up by the pair in September.As reported in the Evening Telegraph on Thursday, shares in Derby County Limited - which were owned by more than 1,000 fans, as well as former directors such as Lionel Pickering, Peter Gadsby and Stuart Webb - are now worthless.As part of the refinancing arrangement undertaken as part of the takeover, Sharmine also took out a loan with club bankers, the Co-op Bank. The amount is unknown.Mr Keith said last night: "We have nothing to add, other than that we have to honour the request of the people who have backed us to make a success of Derby, who wish to remain anonymous."But, having now spent the time we have with the supporters, the staff and the players, we feel a great sense of responsibility to Derby and we would not do anything to damage the club."

David Conn/ The Guardian October 19, 2005
The ABC of boardroom intrigue at Loftus Road

We know plenty more now about how Chelsea were airlifted from Ken Bates' debt mountain by the billionaire from nowhere, but for their near-neighbours, Queens Park Rangers, no such outrageous fortune has delivered them from turmoil. QPR were threatened with expulsion by the Football League in 2002, having been in administration for a year, and staggered out only by clutching a £10m loan from the mysterious Panama-registered ABC Corporation, which has burdened them ever since.Now, after a string of boardroom showdowns, the club is run by Gianni Paladini, an Italian former players' agent and, increasingly, Antonio Caliendo, the one-time Mr Big of Italian agents who in 1991 received a 10-month suspended prison sentence for attempted corruption. QPR are mostly owned by two New York-registered companies, Barnaby and Wanlock, who operate from Monte Carlo."I have fallen in love with Queens Park Rangers, its name and history," Caliendo told me, through an interpreter, this week. "We want to rebuild it both as a team and a business." Caliendo, 61, found early success selling encyclopaedias door-to-door, rose up the ranks of the De Agostini publishing group, then in 1979 fixed what were thought to be the first personal endorsements by an Italian footballer, for the international playmaker Giancarlo Antognoni. Caliendo claims that in the 1990 World Cup final between West Germany and Argentina, he represented 12 of the 22 players on the pitch, but he also dates his troubles in Italy from the same year, after his client Roberto Baggio's move from Fiorentina to Juventus, which provoked riots by Fiorentina fans.In 1991, officers from the Italian tax authorities raided Caliendo's offices, he was arrested, then on May 30 he did a deal, accepting a 10-month suspended prison sentence for attempted corruption. Caliendo told me he is intensely proud of his record and defends his reputation for "moral integrity" absolutely. He said he accepted the conviction only on his solicitor's advice, to secure a quick release from prison, and considered suing the government.A year later, in July 1992, an investigation into the collapse of the Italian club Hellas Verona led to Caliendo, among others, being arrested and remanded in custody, but, after a long investigation, he was not prosecuted. "I was never convicted of anything in relation to Verona," Caliendo said. "Several high-profile figures were attacked by the Revenue in Italy at that time."Caliendo said he is ready to "accept new challenges", and, like Paladini, a long-term associate, has given up his agent's licence to become fully involved at Loftus Road. Caliendo is shortly expected to become the club's new chairman. It is expected he will pass the Football League's "fit and proper person test" for directors, because his criminal conviction dates from long enough ago to be regarded as spent.QPR are still reaping the consequences of their version of living the dream, after they were taken over and floated on the stock market in 1996 by Chris Wright, the Chrysalis music entrepreneur. He invested £10m but, in April 2001, with QPR having lost £27m, Wright put QPR into administration. A month later they were relegated to the then Second Division.In May 2002, with the Football League insisting the club could not start the new season in administration, QPR accepted the £10m loan from the ABC Corporation, at 10%, £1m, annual interest, secured on Loftus Road. ABC's owners cannot be officially identified, but sources at QPR believe the man behind the company is Michael Hunt, the former Nissan UK director who in 1993 was sentenced to eight years in jail for his role in what was then Britain's largest tax fraud.In July 2003 a QPR fan and businessman, Bill Power, born and bred in Shepherd's Bush, bought some unissued shares and joined the board; QPR rallied and, with Ian Holloway their manager, won promotion to the Championship.Gianni Paladini told me that, like Caliendo, he was looking for a new challenge, and examined Port Vale and Derby - which also has a loan from the ABC Corporation, £15m - then eventually offered £670,000 for 10% of QPR. The club, facing another red tax bill, accepted the investment hungrily.This barely staunched the financial problems, however, so then, arranged by Caliendo, the two New York-registered vehicles, Barnaby and Wanlock, paid £1.7m for 29.9% of QPR, most of which went straight to the tax man.In August, following boardroom upheavals, Power quit, Mark Devlin was made redundant as chief executive, and the last London-based director, Kevin McGrath, resigned last month. QPR's directors now are Paladini, the former Brazil captain Dunga, representing Barnaby, and Gualtiero Trucco, a 34-year-old based in Monte Carlo, representing Wanlock.The club and its fans are reeling from a series of revelations, particularly about ballooning agents' fees paid out since Paladini became more closely involved. In the six months to June 30 2004, the Football League's list of agents' payments show QPR paid just £12,000 altogether. Then, from July 1 2004 to June 30 this year, QPR paid £320,935 in fees.Many of the payments were to agents who are friends or former associates of Paladini. Brian Hassall, a Midlands-based agent, was involved in a long- running legal claim against Paladini, which was eventually settled, and he was paid the highest single fee, £60,000, when QPR signed the Danish striker Marc Nygaard at the beginning of this season.Paladini told me the payment was absolutely legitimate and not connected to his legal battle: "Brian and I settled it, now we are friends, and of course I deal with people I know. Ian Holloway was looking for a big lad, Nygaard was at Brescia, I checked him out with Roberto Baggio, who said he would be perfect for English football. When you sign a player, you pay agents, that's how football works. Now, after all this fuss, we will try not to do it in future, but all the deals were above board and in the best interests of QPR."All the agents' payments are understood to have been registered with the League, as required by the rules, except one, £10,000 paid to Paladini's close friend Mel Eves when QPR signed Dean Sturridge from Wolves. Paladini explained that Eves was acting for QPR as a dealmaker and so the payment did not need to be registered.The League is understood to have discussed QPR's situation with the FA's financial advisory unit, but neither the FA nor the League is taking any action currently. "We are monitoring the situation," a League spokesman said.Paladini told me that he, Caliendo and the investors, are the only game in town: "What have we done wrong? Put money in to save this club? We want the club to succeed, then everybody, including the investors, will be happy."Talks have begun with a developer about possibly relocating from Loftus Road and building a new stadium in White City, which may clear QPR's financial problems and make them money. Paladini said he could understand, "100%", fans worrying that, in the hands of former agents, their club might be used to make money by moving players in and out.But he said: "Nothing under the table is going on. If anybody thinks there is, let them bring the evidence. But, actually, isn't it better to have people in who know football and have made a living out of it? Clubs got into a mess partly because rich people, who knew nothing about football, put money in - and they got ripped off."david.conn@guardian.co.uk; additional research John Hooper

April 17, 2003 The talk in FOOTBALL.
Unmask the loan Ranger WHO is the mystery Bahamas backer behind QPR? The club were rescued from administration by a £10 million loan from ABC Corporation, a secretive Bahamas-based trust. Thus far all inquiries as to the identity of those behind the move have proved fruitless. If you know any more let us know at the email address below.

The Evening Standard (London)
December 19, 2003 - : Staggering cost of QPR's 10mlifeline: MATT HUGHES
:QUEENS PARK RANGERS are flying at the top of the Second Division but there is a real danger they lack the resources for real lift-off.The club have failed to find new investment since a controversial 10million loan enabled them to come out of administration 19 months ago.The euphoria surrounding Ian Holloway's energetic and enterprising young team has helped mask their financial problems but, make no mistake, Rangers are in real peril.On the surface things could scarcely be better. Rangers have lost just five league games all year and are on course to emulate Rodney Marsh's team of 1967 by winning their division and a cup in the same season - even if the LDV Vans Trophy is not quite the League Cup. Holloway said: "We've made a decent start but need to keep it going. We're only halfway through the marathon and you don't win anything after 13 miles."He is expected to name an unchanged side for tomorrow's trip to Oldham.Success on the pitch has got the crowds roaring back, and this season's average attendance of 14,000 is higher than when they were in the First Division. The club have changed since the indulgent days of former owner Chris Wright, and Holloway's gospel of hard work runs through Loftus Road.Rangers are undoubtedly better for having trimmed the excess fat. The first-team squad has been reduced from a high of 61 to 24, the wage bill cut from 6.7million to 2.3m and losses are down from 5.5m to 2m. With the increase in gate receipts and television revenue that promotion would bring the club hope to break even if they reach the First Division - but therein lies the rub. Rangers are banking on promotion, a risk they cannot afford.Chairman Nick Blackburn said: "The worst case is that we survive, but we want to push on. This team can win promotion."If we don't get promoted we'll find it difficult to keep our best players.The manager will stay as he loves it here and is committed, but players are different."Rangers may not even get that far. Money promised by the Winton brothers to support the wages of Marc Bircham and Dan Shittu has not materialised and Fulham's return to Craven Cottage will cost them 300,000a-year.To complicate matters further, 14 players and the manager are out of contract at the end of the season and the club are in no position to plan for the future. Bircham and Martin Rowlands have attracted attention and Rangers may have to sell one of them as the season reaches its climax.Chief executive David Davies admitted: "The situation is pretty bad. We're in good shape overall but need the investment otherwise we may have to do things that are unpalatable." At the root of the problem is that rather large loan. To pay off outstanding debts to Wright the club borrowed 10m from the ABC Corporation registered in Panama City at a rate that is crippling them.Repayments on the interest alone total 1m a year, not to mention the 10m that must be paid back at the end of the term.The mysterious identity of the company has also angered supporters but Davies is adamant that the club had no choice.He said: "ABC were the only game in town. The only other option was to sell the ground and lease it back but we didn't feel that was in the best interests of the club.We realise the terms of the loan were unfavourable but had no choice. We have good relations with them and they're like any other mortgage company."But QPR need some help paying off the rest of the mortgage. Blackburn shook hands on a 1.8m deal with Australian David Thorne in July but the money never materialised, an unnamed English businessman offered 2m in October before disappearingy.As well as a general reluctance to invest in football, the club are also hampered by their plc status. Stock Exchange rules state that anyone buying more than 30 per cent of a company's shares must make the same offer to all shareholders, so taking overall control is an expensive business. Unless someone is willing to back Ranger's potential soon, a lot of hard work could be wasted.

The Evening Standard (London)
April 14, 2003

HEADLINE: QPR seeks £2m kick-start to revive flagging Fortunes
By Robert Lea QUEENS Park Rangers fans will be asked to put their hands in their pockets and raise up to £2 million for the cash-strapped Loftus Road club.QPR today admitted it racked up losses of £10 million in the past two seasons. The losses cover the 2000-01 and 2001-02 seasons, during which the club was in administration after one of the more spectacular collapses among the stock market listed football companies. It came out of administration last summer after the sale of its sister rugby club London Wasps to Chris Wright, the former QPR chairman.Financial details reveal it was rescued after a £10 million cash injection from ABC Corporation, a secretive Bahamas-based trust that loaned the money secured on the club's Shepherds Bush stadium.That enabled the club to pay off Wright, who had bankrolled QPR from his own music-industry fortune, with a £3.5 million cheque. Wright, QPR's lifepresident, wrote off a further £3.3 million owed to him and waived his rights over the stadium - on which the loans had previously been secured.Wright's controlling shareholding has been given back to the club and is waiting to be sold to a prospective buyer.In the meantime, however, QPR finance director Paul English confirmed the club is looking to sell new shares. "Given the current negative investment climate in the City it is more likely to be aimed at our fan base," he said."We are actively seeking to raise the further capital to ensure the future of the company and club."Rangers made operating losses of £3.5 million last season despite slashing the players' and management's wage bill to £3.6 million from £6.8 million the previous season, when the club made an operating loss of £6.5 million.English said QPR would make further losses this season, though the underlying performance should improve.The Second Division club gets £1 million a season from tenants Fulham.

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