All posts by Futbolgrad
The European law enforcement agency Europol has dismantled a Russian mafia organization that has infiltrated football clubs in Europe for money laundering purposes on Tuesday May 4. During Operation Matrioskas the Portuguese Police, in support of Europol, raided Portugal’s third division club União de Leiria, and arrested three members of the Russian gang.
It is understood that the mafia organization has been active since 2008, and is thought to be responsible for laundering several million euros accumulated through criminal activity across numerous EU countries.
Europol’s press statement explains that the mafia organization had identified various football clubs in financial distress, and then infiltrated them through benefactors, who provided cash injections through short-term investments or donations.
After gaining trust the mafia organisation would move towards purchasing the club through individuals “operating as front men for opaque and sophisticated networks of holding companies invariably owned by shell companies registered [in] offshore [countries] and in tax havens.” This setup guaranteed that the owners and the true origin of the funds would remain unidentified.
Once the club came under the control of the Russian mafia, clubs were used to launder dirty money through player transfers, television rights deals, and also betting activities.
União de Leira started to experience serious financial difficulties during the 2011-12 season, with players not being paid their wages for several months. Subsequently most of the squad rescinded their contracts, and the club had to drop down to the third division of Portuguese football. On June 28 2013 the club was declared bankrupt in a meeting with its creditors. The Portuguese government, however, abstained from €3.6 million owed by the club in from of taxes.
A new club was formed, which purchased the licence, and naming rights from the old club for €1000. Yet at this point the club already appeared to be under the control of the Russian mafia. Europol started their investigation as several red flag indicators were raised against suspects close to the club.
At this point the club came under the control of the Russian businessman Aleksandr Tolstikov, who according to CNN has been one of several members of the Russian mafia detained by Portugal’s police force.
Suspicion was aroused by the high standard of living of suspects, who used high value assets registered under different names. Furthermore, they imported large amounts of cash from Russia to Portugal in what were direct violations of EU cash regulations.
Europol has collected significant evidence showing that this criminal group had used União de Leira as a front for money laundering, tax fraud, corruption, and forgery of documents.
The head of Europol’s Financial Intelligence Group Igor Angelini said “The misuse of offshore companies to conceal the beneficial ownership of assets is still one of the major challenges for successful financial investigations. These barriers also frustrate the attempts of investigators to trace the origin of the money, often criminal, which is re-invested in sectors prone to such infiltration. The football sector presents vulnerabilities related to its structure, finance model and culture which could be exploited by criminals.”
Tuesday’s operation saw 22 houses and companies searched, including four football clubs—alongside Leira, SC Braga, Sporting Lisbon, and Benfica have also had their offices searched. The operation is understood to have aided the identification of transnational links with organised crimes committed in Austria, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Moldova, and the United Kingdom.
The report indicates that various other football clubs across Europe could be involved in this scheme, and that match-fixing, but also the transfer system were used to launder money. The international player transfer system has especially come under scrutiny due to the heavy involvement of Third-Party Ownership groups, and the lack of transparency when it comes to most major transfers conducted. Europol’s investigation now shows that the current transfer system opens the door not just for investment groups, but also criminal organisations.
By Manuel Veth –
On Thursday May 5 transfermarkt.de reported that Borussia Dortmund were scouting Shakhtar Donetsk’s 27-year-old Brazilian winger Marlos. According to the report Borussia Dortmund are willing to pay €15 million for Marlos, who is seen as an alternative in case Dortmund fails with their bid to land Stade Rennes Ousmane Dembélé.
According to various reports Dembélé’s transfer to Dortmund seemed to be a done deal, but then on Thursday morning FootMercato reported that Stade had rejected Borussia Dortmund’s offer of €15 million for Dembélé, and are instead asking for €35 million, which has led to suggestions that the French right winger’s transfer to Germany could collapse at the last minute.
Shortly after the Dembélé story emerged transfermart.de issued the above stated report, with the Ukrainian news source hronika.info noted as the original source. Hronika writes that Dortmund, which signed Henrikh Mkhitaryan from Shakhtar Donetsk in the summer of 2013, are going to scout Marlos during the second leg Europa League semi-final between Shakhtar and Sevilla.
The problem with the report, however, is that hronika.info is not the original source but rather it is footballtransfer.com.ua, and as Futbolgrad has learned there is nothing to the story. Indeed Footballtransfer.com.ua is considered an extremely unreliable source when it comes to transfers involving Ukrainian clubs.
The timing of the story coincided perfectly with reports that Borussia had failed with their bid to land Dembélé. But Shakhtar are very unlikely to sell Marlos any time soon, as they are already expected to lose the 28-year-old Brazilian winger Taison, who has told the media that he is looking for a new challenge next season.
Furthermore Borussia Dortmund is understood to have the Dembélé transfer all but wrapped up, as the two clubs have negotiated a deal through their common equipment sponsor Puma. Dembélé meanwhile has made his intentions clear by liking a Twitter post showing him wearing a Borussia Dortmund shirt.
By Manuel Veth –
On the eve of Shakhtar Donetsk’s Europa League second leg semi-final against Sevilla (read the match preview here) news emerged regarding the future of head coach, Mircea Lucescu. The FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk blog FCDnipro.com reported on Wednesday that current Dnipro head coach Myron Markevych had held talks with the board of Shakhtar Donetsk regarding the possibility of leading Shakhtar in the new season.
Meanwhile, Markevych, when speaking to the Shakhtar Donetsk blog Shakhtar.info has denied talking to Shakthar Donetsk. On the other hand, Markevych has been repeatedly spotted at Shakhtar Donetsk games in Lviv and it is entirely possible that he could be one of the leading candidates at Shakhtar, should Lucescu decide to conclude his career at the end of the season.
As Futbolgrad reported on April 16, Markevych announced that he is going to leave Dnipro at the end of the season because of the club’s ban on international football due to outstanding debts.
One of the candidates to replace Markevych at Dnipro is the Angolan coach Litio Vidigal, who has had outstanding results at FC Arouca in Portugal this season. Another option now appears to be Dmytro Mykhaylenko, who currently works as a youth coach at the club.
Mykhaylenko would be a likely candidate given the fact that Dnipro will most probably be in complete rebuild mode next season, as several of the club’s top players have already announced that they will leave Dnipropetrovsk due to the lack of international football next season.
On March 3, Tribuna compiled a list of players that could leave Dnipro because of the ban on European football. Not included on the list was the Brazilian Léo Matos. This absence from the list, according to FCDnipro.com, is due to the fact that the 30-year-old Brazilian had already terminated his contract due to the financial problems at the club. According to Tribuna, Matos will join PAOK FC on free transfer in the new season.
Matos will certainly not be the last player to leave Dnipro in the coming months, as the club continues to be besieged by financial uncertainty caused by its owner Ihor Kolomoyskyi who has distanced himself from Dnipro and has refused to pay the club’s outstanding debts. There have been suggestions that the club could either be sold or even face bankruptcy.
Meanwhile at Shakhtar, the rumours about Markevych’s future come at the worst possible moment as Shakhtar are trying to prepare themselves for the most important match in the club’s recent history.
By Manuel Veth –