Not that kind of “fit”

A regular reader of this blog is a supporter of Birmingham City FC (I am not sure where this admission ranks in the sporting world, so I shall refrain from naming him) and he and I have both been following with interest the fate of the club’s owner, Hong Kong-er Carson Yeung.  (I am using “owner” as shorthand: to be more precise, the club is owned by Cayman-registered Birmingham International Holdings Limited, of which Yeung is a majority shareholder.)  In March 2014, Yeung was jailed for six years in HK for laundering the equivalent of £55 million through his bank accounts between 2001 and 2007; he could not show where his money had come from, and the judge called him “not a witness of truth” (which I think means “liar”).  Yeung did not take his punishment lying down: he has lodged an appeal, due to be heard in the middle of this year, and even applied to be allowed home for Christmas pending that appeal (no deal).  And his cause for optimism was given a fillip by a ruling in late 2014 by the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal when they overturned a money laundering conviction after ruling that prosecutors had to establish that defendants “would believe” that the cash was from crime, rather than just showing that it was plausible.

And what of this implications for the Blues?  Well, as a majority shareholder, Yeung would be subject to scrutiny under the Football League’s fit and proper test, which is activated as soon as a shareholding goes above 30%.  And a conviction for money laundering – albeit one later quashed on a technicality – should be something of an obstacle.  But Yeung is not the only football club owner in the UK with, let us say, interesting origins.  In December 2014, Massimo Cellini of Leeds United appealed against the Football League’s decision to disqualify him from club ownership after he was convicted of evading import duty on a yacht.  But his conviction will be spent in a couple of months’ time, and word on the pitch is that he can simply wait it out and then return to Leeds.  Ironic, then, that the Leeds motto is Pro rege et lege – for King and law…

Personally I have no interest in football now that Gary Lineker is only a pundit.  But millions of people around the world do, and it is shameful that those who own the clubs – whether or not they are using them for money laundering, which is a whole nother story (as my little niece says) – are allowed to commit crimes of dishonesty and then simply take up the financial reins once more.  Frankly, if it turns out that they are laundering squillions through these clubs, we will have only ourselves to blame.

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