There is no city-region more immersed in football culture than is Liverpool. Even neutrals, or those averse to the game, recognise the importance of the national sport to the city’s profile and its major contribution to the local economy. More people visit the city for football matches than will ever come in cruise ships. Thus, proposals for a new stadium for Everton Football Club are important to us all.
However, a very unusual proposition has been put forward that Liverpool City Council should effectively guarantee the financing of that new stadium. Many are perplexed by this. Liverpool sought no civic guarantees of which I am aware for their recent major build. EFC is, after all, a private company, with a billionaire major shareholder, Mr Farhad Moshiri. Recent revelations in the Paradise Papers make this proposal even more questionable. Let me explain.
Not so long ago, millions of documents, known as the Panama Papers, were leaked, revealing how the rich and powerful avoided paying taxes, using clever financial instruments and tax havens. Now an Isle of Man company called the Appleby Trust has suffered a similar leak of millions more hitherto secret documents, leading to fresh revelations. These have been called the Paradise Papers. Those named refer to Mr Moshiri, his Russian associate named Alisher Usmanov, and Everton Football Club.
Russian oligarch Usmanov shared a 30% stake in Arsenal Football Club with Moshiri until a deal was done transferring all the Arsenal shares to Alisher Usmanov. The Paradise Papers show that in fact, Usmanov, not Moshiri, may be the real owner of the 49.9% stake held in EFC. This would not be too surprising – Usmanov already has bought the naming rights for the training ground of EFC via his company, USM Holdings. However, it would be a major breach of football’s governing rules for Usmanov to have shares in two clubs.
It gets worse. The whole deal for buying into EFC was overseen by another Isle of Man–based company, Bridgewaters. This company administered Moshiri’s purchase in the name of a company called Blue Heaven Holdings. This firm is based in Bridgewaters’ office in the Isle of Man. It has two directors – one an employee of Bridgewaters; the other an employee of USM Holdings. I should also point out that Bridgewaters was responsible for anti-money laundering checks on Russian money in the Isle of Man. It was also responsible for due diligence on the EFC share deal, yet the leaked papers say that Usmanov had taken ownership of Bridgewaters in 2011. There are massive conflicts of interest in these matters which demand examination and explanation.
There is yet another troubling question. A major beneficiary of the stadium project would be another company ultimately based in the Isle of Man tax haven – that is, the owner of the Bramley Moore site, the Peel Group. It listed as its agents in the Isle of Man, none other than the Appleby Trust. Thus, the three principal actors in the proposed stadium deal – Moshiri, Usmanov and Peel –were intimately linked through the Appleby Trust. The odd one out is Liverpool City Council. Sefton Borough Council may have appeared in the Paradise Papers, but there has been no mention of Liverpool City Council – at least, not yet.
Even the authorities in the secretive Bermuda tax haven expressed worries about the Appleby Trust and money laundering. Why, then, is Liverpool – or rather, its mayor – so eager to provide cover for a project which features so many questionable entities? The council should exercise the greatest caution, and step back from these highly dubious people and their schemes.