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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Refocusing on QPR's "Mysterious" ABC Loan

In May 2002 QPR exited Administration with a 10 year, 10 Million pound, 10% per year loan from the mysterious ABC...Over the past years, there have been a number of stories about QPR (and also Derby County's) ABC Loan, and who the people behind it may be. A few months ago, local Derby County "investors" bought out the ABC Loan.
The issue of the ABC Loan and how to get out of it, has been repeatedly asked in the various meetings & Q&As with current and past QPR Chairmen

Also See For Past QPR statements re the Loan

David Conn, The Independent, April 9, 2005
FOOTBALL: From ABC to QPR, the tangled tale of how football gambled

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 per cent, 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

The ABC of boardroom intrigue at Loftus Road
David Conn, sports news reporter of the year
The Guardian - Wednesday October 19, 2005

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....

...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.


Loftus Road and Pride Park mortgaged to Panamanian company
David Conn - Independent, 8 November 2003

Derby follow Queen's Park Rangers in restructuring debt via faceless ABC Corporation represented by struck-off solicitor

The identity of the so-called "mystery backer" that loaned £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 £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 £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; £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 £900,000 from the firm's clients' bank account, in 91 separate withdrawals, for payyments "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 £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 £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 £149.2m from Nissan UK and cheating the Inland Revenue out of £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 £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 £15m loan to Panama, or any other details. No doubt, as at QPR, a few odd specks will come out in the wash.


"...As I still get asked about the ABC loan I would like to tell the fans and shareholders that we are hoping to replace the ABC loan in the near future with a cheaper loan from a more reputable financial institution.
What do we know about the ABC Corporation? Unfortunately very little, we have suspicions, but we can't prove who the controlling interest behind the ABC Corporation is.
The ABC Corporation's lack of transparency means that the Board must question their motives and their attitude towards the club which is why the Board wish to refinance the ABC loan. We will be reviewing the legality of the ABC loan.
QPR Statement "Gianni Speaks"

See Also

Boardroom Blues re ABC Loan

QPR1st - 2083 QPR fans per game worth of gate money just to service the ABC Corp interest!

March 2003 QPR1st-David Davies Interexchange re ABC Loan

QPR 1st - October 2005 Meeting with QPR Chairman Paladini

Derby County Fans Own Interest in ABC Loan at RamsTrust

<strong>Looking back...
April 2, 2001 BBC: "QPR put into administration"

BBC -April 3, 2001 "Rangers Safe Say Administrators

BBC - QPR Fans Hopeful For the Future

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