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The Fan-Led Review – would it have saved Charlton from grief?

That was the simple question that we decided we should pose when evaluating the full Fan-Led Review, which was published a week ago. Now that we’ve had a chance to go through all 160 pages, we are in a position to answer the question.

And the short answer is an unequivocal “yes”! That has to be followed by the immediate caveat that we assume all of the recommendations in the Review relating to ownership and directors, and protection of club heritage, are fully implemented.

Let’s explain our confidence in the Review by looking at some of our people in the context of the specific recommendations in the review. They do not look like an easy fit, not at all; and it’s interesting to note that this applies not just to ESI, but also to Duchatelet, and even the previous mob led by Tony Jimenez.

Here are some key recommendations from chapter 4, “Test for owners and directors of football clubs”. (Note that “IREF” stands for Independent Regulator for English Football). The Review recommends to distinguish between an Owner (defined as someone who owns at least 25% of a club)  and a (mere) director. The summary recommendation of the Review for an owner is as follows:

In addition to not being subject to any disqualification criteria based on existing rules, prospective new owners should also be required to:

  • submit a business plan for assessment by IREF (to include financial forecasts)
  • evidence sufficient financial resources to meet the requirements of the business plan
  • be subject to enhanced due diligence checks on source of funds to be developed with the Home Office and National Crime Agency
  • pass an integrity test

Beyond any reasonable doubt, neither ESI 1 nor ESI 2 “owners” would have passed this test. The “business plan” probably never existed in either case, and the source of funds (from Tahnoon Nimer in the case of ESI1 and “TBA” in the case of ESI2) were never clearly shown. The “integrity test” in detail is also interesting. The Review says:  

Based on best practice in other industries, the proposed approach should be (but not limited to):

  • a proposed owner be considered as of good character if there is no reliable evidence to consider otherwise and IREF has no reasonable grounds to doubt their good repute
  • IREF will consider all relevant information in relation to the character of the proposed owner, such as:
    • criminal matters not sufficient to be disqualifying conditions.
    • civil, administrative or professional sanctions against the proposed acquirer.
    • any other relevant information from credible and reliable sources.
  • the propriety of the proposed acquirer in past business dealings (including honesty in dealing with regulatory authorities, matters such as refusal of licences, reasons for dismissal from employment or fiduciary positions etc).
  • frequent ‘minor’ matters which cumulatively suggest that the proposed owner is not of good repute.
  • consideration of the integrity and reputation of any close family member or business associate of the proposed owner.

When applying this Test, we would expect that:

  • Matt Southall’s petty crime record, insufficient evidence of wealth from business success, and, ironically, his unpaid debt to Chris Farnell, would all have raised flags.
  • An NCA review of Tahnoon Nimer, examining the ADBD and other websites, and questions relating to his long -time associates Jacco van Seventer and Jon Hirst, would have raised flags.

Paul Elliott and Chris Farnell actually managed to fail the existing EFL test, so this new test would simply have caused them more embarassment, not least because the Review recommends that the findings of such Tests should be made public.

When it comes to Directors the Review recommends that a Director:

In addition to not being subject to the disqualification criteria, a prospective director should also be required to:

* demonstrate that they have the necessary professional qualifications, and/or transferable skills, and/or relevant experience to run the club.

* pass an integrity test in the same manner as prospective owners. * declare any conflicts of interest.

* declare any personal, professional or business links with the owner of the club in question, or any other club owner (past or present).

So looking at the other directors

  • Claudiu Florica’s adventures in Romania would have been an open and shut case for failure.
  • Sean McHugh (though not a legal „director“ might have come in for some scrutiny too, as the holder of the purse strings
  • Mohamed el Kashashy, presumably a would-be director, would have had difficulty explaining any claimed wealth based on legitimate business activity after his rather mercurial corporate career came to an end.

In all, only Jonathan Heller and Marian Mihail look likely to have had any chance of passing these Tests. Neither had any role in creating or controlling the funding of the club.

The Regulator would have been a problem for Duchatelet too.

Chapter 9 of the Review deals with “Protecting the Club Heritage“. The Stadium is defined as a key part of the heritage. The review proposes a Golden Share to be held by supporters; had this been in place, Duchatelet would have had to inform supporters in advance of his intention to sell the club but retain the stadium.In his case, he never made a secret of his intention to do this, since he always argued that separating the club from the real estate somehow makes the best commercial sense. The problem was that we had no way to stop him. That said, Rick Everitt, the “Voice of the Valley“ editor, has pointed out that work needs to be done if the Regulator will provide the protection intended regarding stadia. As he says, the Valley and the Football Club have been owned by separate companies since 1992, and this situation is quite common at other clubs too. This is not a big problem while both companies have the same owner. It’s possible that the Review hasn’t quite grasped this important distinction, although we would expect that a Regulator quickly will. The rash of owners who sold the stadia to themselves is an accident waiting to happen soon – starting, we fear, at Derby.

But the Regulator might have had other questions for Duchatelet; it is interesting to note that in respect of the Owners test, the Review notes that the existing (FAPL/EFL) tests disqualify “Control or influence at multiple clubs“. It is possible that the Review has overlooked the fact that at the moment this only refers to multiple clubs within the English leagues; but we would think it likely that a Regulator would at least have given more thought to the implication of multiple ownerships within Europe, not least because of the conflict in European competitions. Anyway before Duchatelet completed his purchase of Charlton, his problems of ownership at Standard Liège were already in the public domain, and would therefore have been subject to review by the Regulator.

And we should not forget Kevin Cash…

Although it has never been publicly confirmed, it is widely understood that the two “owners“ who took over in 2010 (Tony Jimenez was the more visible face) were bankrolled by Kevin Cash. This was impossible to prove at the time because CAFC Holdings Ltd was registered in the notorious tax haven, the British Virgin Islands. The Review has something important to say on this type of situation (currently all too common in the English game)

For accountability, and transparency it should be a licence condition that it is declared to IREF who the Ultimate Beneficial Owner (UBO) of the company is. This is especially important where clubs are owned by offshore entities, and where the investors in those entities are unknown, or where clubs are controlled by complex company structures.

So there we are. The Review has our unqualified support because its recommendations, had they been in place in the past, would have most likely meant this website would never have needed to be created. We’ve demonstrated this by retroactively applying the new proposed Test to the people who actually took control of the Club. However, to argue over the detail of whether one or other of these characters might have failed, is to miss the point, which is applicable to so many other clubs who have suffered as we have – or worse.

If these Tests, overseen by a serious regulator has been in place it’s difficult to imagine that the ESI people would have risked the scrutiny that they would have known was coming their way. Duchatelet would not have tried to separate the Valley from the club when looking to sell it, and indeed might never have bought in, knowing that his crazy ideas might not actually be allowed.

So that is the simple takeout. Implement the Review and in future chancers like the  ESI gangs and madmen like Duchatelet may well decide that football is no longer an easy touch.

That is exactly what we wanted from this Review, was it not?

The Battle is only just starting…

The Review now needs to be debated in Parliament and made law. The Government has so far only said it accepts the main recommendations “in principle”. Meanwhile the Premier League big cheeses are wheeled out to the media to diss the Review. (we will be scrutinising them in the next days). Do not leave it to others…Write to your MP, now. MPs have a rule of thumb that for every genuine letter they get, 100 more constituents have the same opinion. Charlton Athletic Supporters Trust has published useful template letters to help you create yours. They can be used by fans of any club of course, and are adjusted according to which Party your MP represents.