The Tory party activist, a disappearing website and the 52m takeover of Leeds United
00:00 GMT, 2 December 2012
10:16 GMT, 2 December 2012
Mystery surrounding the proposed
takeover of Leeds United by Dubai-based GFH Capital deepened last week —
and that will cause alarm among fans of the famous old club.
First, the front man for the bid, a
Conservative party activist called David Haigh, declined to answer a
series of questions from Inside Sport about both the deal and his own
Then Haigh’s personal website, which
included an outline of his career and business activities since his
first job as a reporter on The Cornishman newspaper ‘at the age of 13’,
was taken offline and the website’s registration details were withdrawn
from public scrutiny.
Haigh is deputy chief executive and
chief operating officer of GFH Capital but his involvement in the Leeds
takeover has baffled some observers, and while sections of the club’s
huge following have welcomed the apparent prospect of Gulf money being
poured into Neil Warnock’s side, others have questioned the degree of
transparency surrounding GFH Capital’s purchase of current owner Ken
Bates’s 49 per cent shareholding.
Front-man: David Haigh, the Tory
activist involved the a Leeds buy-out
Leeds, a club renowned for their glory
days under Don Revie and a period under David O’Leary when they reached
the 2001 Champions League semi-finals, dropped to the third tier of
domestic football for the first time in their history in 2007 before
rising back to the Championship three years later.
Supporters desperate for a return to
the Premier League say they are fed up with a perceived lack of clarity
over the takeover by GFH Capital, who expect to take full ownership of
Leeds on December 21. ‘This has been going on for seven months and there
are many more questions than answers,’ said Gary Cooper, chairman of
the 8,500-strong Leeds United Supporters Trust. ‘We have concerns that
are not being addressed.’
Haigh, 35 and a lawyer who grew up in
Cornwall, has claimed to be a lifelong Leeds fan (his parents are from
the city) but had never tweeted about the club before July. At least one
tweet from last year, celebrating success by Leeds’ bitter rivals,
Manchester United, was later deleted from his Twitter account.
The replacement last week of his
personal website, davidhaigh.co.uk, by a ‘holding page’ came after
Inside Sport asked for clarification over claims made on the site.
One article posted there and dated May
21 reported that Haigh had been nominated for a ‘General Counsel of the
Year’ award for a ‘successful’ $75m bid for a Turkish bank. The same
article failed to say that another lawyer had already won the award and
that Haigh’s bid for the bank had actually failed.
Until last week, a simple online
check revealed that Haigh’s website was registered to him as an
individual, via an address in Camden, north London, where a company
called Prime Secretarial act as a postbox for personal and business
Now you see it… Haigh's website, before Inside Sport's questions (above) and as
it looks now (below)
And after: David Haigh
But as Inside Sport sought more
information about Haigh and GFH Capital, details of where the website is
registered were removed from public view. A spokesman for Haigh said
the disappearance of his personal website was ‘entirely coincidental’
and was a result of it undergoing renovation.
The website for GFH Capital — owned by
a Bahrain parent company, Gulf Finance House, who boast of billions of
dollars of deals since 1999 — is also registered to Haigh as an
individual and with the same address in Camden as his personal website.
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Haigh has close ties to the Conservative Party as vice-chairman of ‘Gulf Tories’, an association of expatriate Conservatives. He once stood in local elections for the Conservatives in London, polling 4.7 per cent of the vote to come ninth out of 13 candidates in Oval ward in 2006. He then emigrated to Dubai, from where he is spearheading GFH Capital’s buy-out of Leeds United.
When the deal is completed in 19 days’ time, full ownership will switch to a Cayman Islands-based firm owned by GFH Capital, who have agreed to buy Bates’s 49 per cent shareholding, plus the 18 per cent held by minor shareholders. That will add to the 33 per cent holding GFH Capital have already acquired.
A spokesman for Haigh said he did not want to comment on how much GFH Capital have agreed to pay for Leeds, although it has been reported to be 52million. The deal does not involve buying either Leeds’ famous Elland Road stadium or their Thorp Arch training ground, both of which are owned by a company called Teak Trading, who are based in the British Virgin Islands. Haigh’s spokesman said GFH Capital plan to buy Elland Road ‘at some stage’ but he could not say when.
GFH Capital’s original plan was, according to reports, to buy Leeds and sever ties with Bates but Bates will now remain as chairman until the end of the season and then become honorary life president.
No tin the deal: Elland Road is not included as part of the 52m takeover
Asked how GFH Capital intend to run a football club with no prior experience in the sector, Haigh’s spokesman said Leeds’s chief executive, Shaun Harvey, is experienced and is expected to stay, and that Bates ‘has a lot of experience running football clubs’.
Supporters Trust chairman Cooper said: ‘It is resoundingly clear that our members don’t want Leeds to continue our association with Ken Bates, under whose ownership the club fell to our lowest league position ever [bottom of League One for a period during 2007-08]. GFH Capital need to understand that, and that people are staying away because of it, and that our attendances are dwindling to the point where you wonder about potential cash-flow problems. We just want some answers.’
GFH Capital have a Twitter account on which they boasted on November 11: ‘GFH Capital team have led a number of large scale transactions in the sports sector (and) see sport as a key focus of GFH Capital going forward.’
Asked to cite examples of these ‘large scale transactions’, Haigh’s spokesman said the firm had sponsored Bahraini GP2 racing driver Hamad Al Fardan and the building of the Um Al Hassam stadium in Bahrain.
There is no record of Al Fardan competing since 2009 and the Um Al Hassam ‘stadium’ is, according to local sources, a municipal leisure complex.
Cricket stars in image rights probe by taxman
Tax officials are investigating some of England’s leading county cricket clubs over their alleged use of image rights payments to help players pay less tax.
By labelling payments as image rights rather than salaries, cash can be paid to companies owned by players and often based offshore. Such payments are then subject to corporation tax at 24 per cent rather than higher-rate income tax of 45 per cent.
HMRC are investigating whether such payments are appropriate in all cases, and the players’ union, the Professional Cricketers’ Association, admit that there may be problems ahead.
Ian Smith, the PCA’s legal director, said: ‘There are lots of genuine image rights contracts in the game. Surrey, Yorkshire, Essex and Middlesex are among counties that use image rights. However, it has become clear that the use of image rights is far more widespread than was originally thought and issues have arisen. There are a number of HMRC investigations going on with counties that are looking into players’ contracts.’
Surrey have image rights contracts with three current players and 15 have enjoyed such contracts over the last five years. There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing at the county and officials say HMRC have not approached The Oval-based club.