Thursday, 22 May 2014

Haigh arrested, GFH coy, and Cellino goes through the books at Leeds United

Another busy week at Leeds United, plenty of headlines and a lot of unanswered questions.

I first heard on Monday that former MD David Haigh had been arrested in the Middle East and was being detained. Initially, I was told he was in jail in Bahrain, then Dubai.

Despite a lot of phone calls - to the British Embassy, the Ministry of the Interior, GFH (more on that in a bit) and others, I couldn't stand the story up.

It finally came out on Wednesday, via Haigh's UK-based PR man, Ian Monk.

It turned out Haigh had travelled to Dubai to discuss a job offer from GFH, and was then arrested upon arriving at their offices.

He was suspected of "financial irregularities" and has been held in custody for four nights and counting.

A report in Gulf News on Thursday, quoted a lawyer from GFH as saying: “We lodged a lawsuit against the suspect for alleged embezzlement, swindling and breach of trust at Bur Dubai Police Station.

“Currently the suspect is in provisional detention and being questioned over primary charges of embezzling millions of dirhams.”

Haigh denies the claims against him and in a statement, his spokesman, Monk, said: “Although he is horrified to find himself in this position, he is answering fully every allegation made against him in the knowledge that he is entirely innocent of any wrongdoing.

“In co-operating fully with the Dubai authorities, for whom he has complete respect, David is clear that he has no case to answer.

“He has every confidence that the authorities will see clearly the motives which lie behind these allegations and will act accordingly in bringing no charges against him.

“In the meantime he would like to thank the many people who are supporting him.”

Meanwhile, back in Leeds, Massimo Cellino's long-time accountant and fellow Eleonora Sports director, Daniel Arty, has been leading a forensic examination of the club's finances.

And he is apparently uncovering a lot of irregularities. Firstly, Cellino says several back-dated staff contracts have been discovered.

This explains why head of scouting Luke Dowling, among others, has been moved aside.

Secondly, Cellino says the club's income was misrepresented when he was negotiating to buy the club - by a significant amount.

What happens next, I don't quite know. Will the discoveries in the accounts and the arrest of Haigh affect the winding up order he issued with Sports Capital, which was contested by Cellino?

And how will the tie-up between Cellino (who owns 75% of the club) and GFH (25%) and the money he is scheduled to pay them be affected?

I spoke to Salem Patel, head of investment management at GFH, on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week.

It's fair to say he was reluctant to speak. He wouldn't comment on the rumour that Haigh had been arrested, saying "I am not authorised to speak on behalf of GFH".

He was in Dubai and explained he hadn't been back to Leeds for several weeks and had no plans to go back there.

On Wednesday, after news of Haigh's arrest was made public, I called Patel again and asked whether he was worried about being arrested himself and whether the sale of the majority stake in Leeds had been conducted correctly.

He said, rather indignantly: "I am 100% sure I will not be arrested and am 100% sure that everything was done correctly in the sale of Leeds."

He refused to discuss why Haigh had been arrested, what the circumstances were around his arrest or what the "financial irregularities" were.

Meanwhile, Cellino will travel back to Miami on Friday to attend his daughter's graduation, before returning to Leeds on June 2nd, which is also when the players, manager and coaching staff are due to return.

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