Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Takeover rows spark Premier League bid to toughen ownership tests

The Premier League plans to toughen tests for owners and directors of England's leading football clubs in the wake of controversies surrounding proposed takeovers at Hull City and Southampton.
Sky News has learnt that the bosses of the 20 Premier League clubs will asked to vote at next month's annual meeting on a series of rule changes that will make it easier for the League to prevent clubs falling into the control of potentially unscrupulous owners.

The move will come amid growing unease - both in football and in Westminster - about the influx of club owners who have often sought to keep details of their financial affairs beyond the scrutiny of the Premier League.

There have also been growing objections to the number of clubs being bought by Chinese backers amid suggestions that there is a degree of opacity surrounding the ultimate ownership of some of those investors.

The majority of top-flight clubs - including new Premier League champions Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United - have owners who are based overseas, while Aston Villa, Wolverhampton Wanderers and West Bromwich Albion are among the clubs now owned by Chinese shareholders.

One Premier League club director said he had been briefed to expect details of a number of rule changes to be circulated ahead of the shareholder meeting, which takes place on June 8.

The first relates to the conduct of prospective owners who have been guilty of offences abroad that would have left them liable to criminal prosecution in Britain.

Sources said the proposed amendment to Premier League rules would allow it to block club takeovers on that basis, following a move by Chinese businessman Gao Jisheng to take control of Southampton FC in a deal reported to be worth £200m.

Mr Gao had admitted to bribery offences, but gave evidence for the prosecution in two separate cases, meaning that he escaped charges himself.

Because he has not been convicted of an offence, the Premier League is understood to have no existing grounds to block his bid.

The other principal change is said to relate to a more formal ability to prohibit would-be owners who are found to have provided misleading information about their finances to Premier League officials.

One club source said this amendment had been inspired by recent events at Hull City FC, who were relegated from the Premier League last weekend.
An attempt by Dai Yongge and Hawken Xiu Li, his sister, to buy Hull involved the use of a third party, who insisted that he controlled the relevant funds necessary to undertake the deal.

It subsequently transpired that the finances were actually under the control of Mr Dai, with the Financial Times reporting last month that a Premier League investigation into him had raised several "red flags" over his commercial background.

To complicate matters further, Mr Dai has now turned his attention to a takeover of Reading, which could win promotion to the Premier League if it wins the Championship Play-Off Final at Wembley later this month.

Sources said the English Football League was likely to adopt similar changes.

The Premier League's constitution means that a two-thirds majority of clubs - equating to 14 of the 20 'shareholders' - are required to vote in favour in order to approve the rule changes.

Its rulebook already permits close scrutiny of the finances of club-owners whose business plans are deemed to be unsustainable by the Premier League.

Clubs are permitted to overspend their budgets by £105m over a three-year period, providing they can demonstrate the viability of their financial forecasts, or that directors and financiers are prepared to write off their debts.

One source said this area was also likely to be tightened, although the League already powers to impose draconian measures such as a transfer embargo.

The Premier League has made incremental changes to what was known as the 'Fit and Proper Person Test' in the decade since Alexandre Gaydamak's tenure at Portsmouth led to the club's financial ruin.

SKY      News.