Sunday, 18 March 2007

Secret Payments

As is typical for West Ham, the gloss of yesterday's victory has been removed by further tawdry accusations in the sunday press. Rob Beasley has continued his attack on the financial inproprieties of the fomer regime, this time claiming a secret payment of £339,000 was paid into a Swiss bank account to facilitate the signing of Argentine midfielder Javier Mascherano. As last week, the details are reproduced in full because the article will not be online for long.

£339K into a Swiss bank account but West Ham bosses declare sweet FA
By Rob Beasley

A Premier League club bunged a secret payment of £339,000 into a Swiss bank account over the shady transfer of a foreign star, the News of the World can reveal.

Crisis team West Ham made the hush-hush deposit to a company linked with a controversial soccer agent just days after signing Argentine ace Javier Mascherano last September. But a major News of the World investigation into the greed and dodgy dealings threatening our national game has discovered West Ham FAILED to disclose the money to the FA. That is a clear breach of FA rules which state that All payments in relation to transfers have to be made through the proper channels.

Last night chiefs at the Football Associaton promised a full probe after we handed over our evidence. If found guilty the struggling London club, favourites to be relegated, could face a huge fine, a fixed-term ban on all transfers AND even a possible points deduction at the beginning of next season.

The money West Ham paid—500,000 euros—was given to the firm Global Soccer Agencies which has links to Mr Fixit soccer agent Pini Zahavi. The News of the World has seen the official Swiss bank payment report for September 4 last year—just after West Ham's shock signing of Argentinian internationals Mascherano and Carlos Tevez on Aug 31.

The transfers of midfielder Mascherano and striker Tevez, 23, were shrouded in mystery. But Zahavi boasted how he helped broker the deal. In a surprise move, the promising young pair were signed from Brazilian club Corinthians, where Anglo-Iranian businessman Kia Joorabchian had a 51 per cent stake. At the time Joorabchian was trying to buy control of West Ham and was in negotiations with then chairman Terry Brown and managing director Paul Aldridge.

The two players' contracts were owned by companies and consortiums associated with Joorabchian and Pini Zahavi. Mascherano, 22, who has now moved on to Liverpool, was half-owned by Global Soccer Agencies, a Gibraltar-registered firm with direct links to Zahavi.

West Ham—who won at Blackburn yesterday—paid the £339,000 into GSA's Swiss bank account following the transfer. But FA bosses had no knowledge of this forming part of the transfer deal—in contravention of strict guidelines brought in to stamp out dodgy dealings and corruption. At the time of the signings, Zahavi told how he stood to make a fortune from the Mascherano and Tevez move. He bragged: "I am an honest man. I don't sell cars. I have nothing to hide. But it is quite simple. If the players are a big success, I make money. Not just if they leave West Ham in the future but if they do well at West Ham. West Ham's then chairman Brown called the transfers the "biggest in our history".

Last week we exclusively revealed that he and managing director Aldridge stood to trouser £9.3 million between them if the deal had gone through to sell the club to Joorabchian. Instead it was bought by the current chairman, Icelandic businessman Eggert Magnusson.

When confronted by the News of the World over the Mascherano payment, Terry Brown said: "Who paid it? Into where?"

He added: "You would have to ask the club, I am not going to comment on that. If it's wrong it's the club that has done wrong but I very much doubt we have done anything that's wrong."

And Paul Aldridge said: "Legal advice was taken at the time and a payment was made strictly in accordance with all the relevant rules and regulations."

Agent Pini Zahavi angrily denied he was the owner of Global Soccer Agencies and had pocketed the huge fee. "I am the advisor that's all, I don't own it. I have nothing to hide, I've done nothing wrong. I don't give a shit what rule West Ham broke. I am telling you I am not GSA," he said.

Our investigation will send shockwaves through football. West Ham are already being probed by the soccer authories over possible irregularities in the signing of the two Argentinians. Those investigations also carry the threat of major fines and points deductions.

A West Ham spokesman said last night: "All documents relating to the Mascherano and Tevez transfers have now been submitted to the Premier League to assist with their on-going inquiry. "That includes the so-called third party agreements and all payments relating to them which were passed on by the club's new owners in January."

Ex-Met police commissioner Lord Stevens, left, is close to wrapping up a detailed investigation into the activities of eight agents in relation to 17 suspicious transfers made by English clubs. Some of those cases could result in criminal prosecutions. Zahavi was asked to help with the inquiry but is understood to have declined.

The Mail on Sunday also makes mention of the story. It states that the Football Association have confirmed they will investigate allegations of financial impropriety surrounding West Ham's controversial signing of Javier Mascherano last September.

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