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Football’s Russian mafia (& other dodgy dealers)

"FOOTBALL IS being systematically carved up by moguls with clear or suspected roots in the former Soviet Union", commented the right-wing Daily Mail (2 September) in an exposé of football’s new round of dodgy deals. "Their mission is to corner the global market in talent.

"West Ham’s shadowy acquisition of the Argentines Carlitos Tevez and Javier Mascherano from the Brazilian club Corinthians, via an intermediary called Media Sports Investment (MSI), marks an historic moment in the development of the world’s most popular game. Overwhelming evidence suggests that investors who recoil at the huge cost of buying clubs outright… have devised a cheaper strategy to buy up talent outside the overheated European market and work their way in through the side doors of smaller clubs such as West Ham".

MSI is being investigated in Brazil over concerns of money laundering. MSI is a subsidiary of a secret offshore company based in the Virgin Islands being investigated by Brazil’s organised crime taskforce after its takeover in 2004 of Corinthians, one of the giants of South American football.

According to a report obtained by The Guardian newspaper, "sufficient indices [exist] to show that the partnership MSI-Corinthians is being used to practice the laundering of money". (14 September) The report alleges that money was laundered on behalf of the Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky.

The transfer of these two gifted footballers to West Ham, allegedly without the prior knowledge of the manager of the club, is a dangerous new situation for football. It puts into the shade even the widespread dodgy dealings of bungs and bribes. West Ham has not acquired these players, they are owned by MSI. West Ham will not make one penny out of future deals. MSI will control the future of these players, including lucrative image rights. In the future agencies such as MSI may well own and control the movement of all the top players in the world and lease them to clubs, and receive huge amounts when the players move on to another club.

Who are the main players and dealers behind MSI and the attempts to control West Ham United? Mr Berezovsky is one. He was one of Russia’s wealthiest and most powerful capitalists until he fell out with Vladimir Putin after his election to the presidency of Russia in 2000. He had to flee Russia and take exile in England, living in Mayfair and the leafy suburbs of Surrey (the poor soul is down to his last £800m).

Berezovsky has recently been given a UK passport (obviously a lot easier to acquire if you are a multi-millionaire crook than if you are a working-class asylum seeker). Another man being linked to the takeover of West Ham is Badri Patarkatsishvili, a former Communist Party official from Georgia. He teamed up with Berezovsky during the 1990s and bought up the under-priced aluminum and oil industries, which they bled dry of finances.

Another shady character in the saga is Pini Zahavi, an Israeli sports journalist and dodgy football agent. He was involved in the very lucrative deal which took Rio Ferdinand from West Ham to Leeds United and then onto Manchester United. Zahavi was involved in brokering Roman Abramovich’s deal to take over Chelsea. He also helped Russian Alexander Gaydamak buy into Portsmouth Football Club.

Linked to the dealings and the alleged money laundering is Kia Joorabchian, an old colleague involved in the looting of the economy of the former Soviet Union along with Berezovsky. He was involved in a joint manoeuvre with Berezovsky to take control of Kommersant, an influential newspaper in the post-Soviet era. In 1999, Joorabchian bought 85% of the newspaper though a company registered in the Virgin Islands. At the time, he said that the takeover did not involve other parties, but within months control had passed to Berezovsky.

Joorabchian has stated that this was the last deal that he undertook with Berezovsky and denies being involved with MSI. However, according to The Guardian, he appeared to let the cat out of the bag: "We have invested in a wonderful football club in Brazil, Corinthians. We have invested in the Brazil team with Boris Berezovsky". Money, he added, "has a wonderful habit of flowing where it feels comfortable".

These parasites are trying to get their noses in the trough of the multi-billion pound football industry. The Premier League’s deals – with Sky, Setanta and other television companies – will net, with overseas rights, £2.5 billion over the next three years. Even a middle-ranking team such as West Ham has become a lucrative target. Berezovsky may also want to go into battle with his former friend and now hated rival, Abramovich, the gangster capitalist turned football supremo, who owns and controls Chelsea in South West London.

Another attraction of West Ham is the 80,000-capacity Olympic stadium being built down the road in Stratford. Berezovsky or some other multi-millionaire would love to get their hands on this asset, paid for by taxpayers, on the cheap.

The Daily Mail summed it up: "… powerful international investors are buying players as tools to take over clubs. Not that allegiance matters much these days in the Premiership. Chelsea, Manchester United, Portsmouth, Aston Villa and Fulham are all owned by tycoons who picked them off a menu of portfolio opportunities.

"If the West Ham deal goes through, Joorabchian and MSI will have a conveyor belt from the Premiership to the Brazilian and Argentinean leagues. Moguls everywhere will see that buying debt-ridden clubs cheaply and then using them as holding stations for superstars is a profitable new way to build an empire… to them, football is a commodity-with-glamour. Instead of oil and aluminum their business is talent, which transcends boundaries".

From one of the most rabid mouthpieces – from the nationalist standpoint of British capitalism – we see big business in the football industry exposed. The fans need to unite to drive these parasites out of the now tarnished game to reclaim it once more as the people’s beautiful game.

John Reid

Author of Reclaim the Game!


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