Taxman's dawn swoops on West Ham and Newcastle
In an unprecedented wave of cross-Channel raids and arrests last night, at least two of England's biggest clubs were engulfed by a criminal inquiry into a suspected £5m fraud.
Officers from Revenue and Customs swooped on Newcastle United and West Ham yesterday morning in a coordinated operation with authorities in France. They also visited Chelsea to gather information - although there was no similar raid at Stamford Bridge.
Mike Ashley's right-hand man at Newcastle, Lee Charnley, was among "several"people arrested by HMRC, which deployed 180 officers across both countries to search premises and seize documents, computers and mobile phones. Charnley was later released without charge.
Organised crime was described as being at the centre of a suspected scam the French financial prosecutors' office confirmed related to suspected "tax fraud committed during several transfers of players between French clubs and in the Premier League".
It said four people had been arrested and 10 searches carried out across France, with 32 investigators mobilised to work with what was believed to be a task force dedicated to Corsican gangs.
The quartet detained were described as agents for Premier League players by police sources, who also confirmed Marseille were the focus of ongoing inquiries.
"Organised criminal gangs are suspected of targeting senior club officials, agents and other parties," said a source close to the investigation. "Marseille has done a lot of high-profile business with West Ham and Newcastle."
Yesterday's action kicked off a day of shame for English football, in which Joey Barton was hit with an 18-month ban for breaking gambling rules - including betting on his own team to lose - and David Moyes facing suspension after being charged by the Football Association with threatening a female BBC reporter.
The fraud probe threatened far more serious consequences for anyone found guilty amid a recent crackdown on tax avoidance in the game.
HMRC is understood to be examining transfer deals dating back seven years, with payments both to players and agents under scrutiny.
As well as raiding Newcastle's stadium just two days after they secured promotion back to the Premier League, officers swooped yesterday on their training ground while players and staff were present.
West Ham employees were also left in shock following the 8am operation at their offices and training ground. Around 40 officers arrived in unmarked white vans at the London Stadium and seized dozens of documents.
No one was arrested and the club said they were "cooperating fully with HMRC to assist their inquiries".
The HMRC visit to Chelsea's Stamford Bridge saw no documentation or equipment taken and the club were adamant yesterday neither they nor their employees were under investigation.
Other clubs in the UK could be visited as part of the probe, which involves suspected income tax fraud, with 16 known to have done business with Marseille since 2009. (© Independent News Service)
Independent News Service