From Russia with Love?

By @WatchedToffee

On the eve of the announcement that many Evertonians had given up hope of ever hearing, Russian language website championat.com ran a curious story that contained an even more curious proclamation: ‘Russian businessman Alisher Usmanov has become the new owner of Everton.’

After months of endless speculation and the standard daily occurrences, press reports of due diligence taking place, exclusivity periods, prospective American and Chinese owners seen at various locations around Liverpool, this was not the first time Alisher Usmanov’s name had been liked to Everton. Some fans remembered the tale of a large file containing information about the club seen on board the Super Yacht Dilbar the previous summer.

As it transpired a hastily constructed press release twelve hours later announced Bill Kenwright’s infamous sixteen-year search for an investor was over. But it wasn’t Alisher Usmanov that was named in Everton’s press release, the new majority shareholder was named as Farhad Moshiri – Alisher Usmanov’s long-time business partner and confidant.

In footballing parlance it would appear the Championat website had ‘hit the bar’ by prematurely naming Alisher Usmanov, but perhaps on closer inspection a Russian linesman could have decided the ball had crept over the line.

Alexander Mamut

One possible explanation for Championat’s certainty in reporting its original Usmanov story is the source. Identified only by the obligatory ‘close to the deal,’ the credibility of this source takes on more tenability once the ownership structure of the Championat website is understood.

Championat is owned by Rambler&Co, an amalgam of the companies Rambler/Afisha and SUP. They were merged in 2013 to create Russia’s third largest online asset.

Rambler’s sole owner and CEO Alexander Mamut, is a billionaire Russian banker with interests in publishing, media, mining and insurance. He also owns UK book retailer Waterstones.

One of the companies now in Mamut’s Rambler group is Gazeta.ru, a Moscow based Russian news site that was sold in 2005 to Sekret Firmy, a publishing house owned by Alisher Usmanov.

In 2008 Usmanov and the owners of SUP, a company created by Alexander Mamut and Andrew Paulson in 2006, reached an agreement and exchanged web assets to expand their partnership. Because of this agreement, Kommersant, the leading business media company in Russia purchased by Usmanov in 2006 through his company Media Holdings, received up to 50% of SUP.

In 2012 Alisher Usmanov sold his interest in SUP Media to Alexander Mamut.

This isn’t the only business conducted between the two London based, yacht owning billionaires. In 2012 Usmanov’s Megafon, one of Russia’s leading mobile phone service providers, completed lengthy negotiations over a 50% stake in Euroset, the country’s largest mobile phone retailer. The shares were sold by Alexander Mamut, who owned 50.1% of Euroset.

Given the profile of Alisher Usmanov within Russia and beyond, and notwithstanding the strong business links between the two, and including Championat’s ‘close to the deal’ source, it is much more than an intriguing coincidence that a major Russian news agency website owned by Alexander Mamut somehow managed to misidentify the Billionaire Arsenal shareholder as the new owner of Everton Football Club.

Almost a year on since Championat’s revelation, Everton FC confirmed a naming rights partnership with USM Holdings which will see the group, a consolidation of the various investments and holdings of Alisher Usmanov and his partners, become the club’s first training ground partner.

Blue Heaven Holdings

Everton supporters pressure group KEIOC, having long since developed a reputation for uncovering the truth about activities behind the scenes at at the club, exclusively reported that Moshiri’s chosen special purpose vehicle, Blue Heaven Holdings, had not only acquired 49.9% of the existing shares at Everton but also held charges over the remaining shares of Bill Kenwright.

Blue Heaven Holdings also secured the shares of fellow director Jon Woods and former director, and fellow True Blue Holdings consortium member, Arthur Abercromby. Once exercised these charges would see 75% of Everton’s shares under the control of Blue Heaven Holdings.

KEIOC also revealed that the special purpose vehicle was registered in August 2015, some six months prior to the February 27th announcement. An indication of the considerable thought, time and work that had gone into the deal.

Everton’s new majority shareholder paid his first visit to Goodison Park two weeks after the takeover announcement. Behind Moshiri stood Alisher Usmanov’s advisor, UK politician Lord Owen.

It is understood Lord Owen (top left) is not the only Usmanov advisor currently walking the Goodison Park corridors of power.

USM Holdings

Early in January, just days after the club’s AGM, Alisher Usmanov’s USM Holdings was announced as Everton’s Finch Farm training ground sponsor.

USM have also secured an extensive package of marketing rights as part of a new five year £15m a season sponsorship deal.

Bloomberg revealed that according to a source familiar with plans for Everton, Usmanov, who owns 30.4% of Arsenal through Red & White Holdings, had been seeking a mechanism through which to invest in Everton without transgressing rules on ownership and related party transactions concerning fair market value.

Premier League rules state that when a person obtains a shareholding of over 30% they are required to comply with the fit and proper persons’ test, a declaration given by the person or persons concerned.

The relevant rules here are rule D.2.1 and D.2.2. Rule D.2.1 prohibits any involvement in the day-to-day running of another Premier League or Football League club.

Rule D.2.2 prohibits ownership of more than 9.9% of the shareholding of a Premier League club whilst owning any shares in another Premier League club.

Neither Farhad Moshiri nor Alisher Usmanov have broken any rules. Their declared shareholdings are a matter of record and in the event of Everton qualifying for UEFA competition there is little doubt the USM sponsorship deal represents fair market value and is far removed from deals, such as those at Manchester City and PSG. Deals which attracted criticism followed by UEFA sanctions.

According to Forbes Alisher Usmanov’s net worth stands at $15.2bn, or just above £12bn. Chelsea owner Roman Abrmovich has a net worth of $8.7bn (£6.93bn). Stan Kroenke (Arsenal) has a net worth of $7.4bn (£5.89bn).

Everton’s new majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri, has a net worth of $2.3bn (£1.83bn). In perspective, former majority shareholder Bill Kenwright has a net worth of £33m.

Evertonians are hopeful that at long last their club has restarted the journey to the top echelons of the Premier League. It will be a long journey and some (more) patience is needed.

Likewise, the move to the Docklands is a considerable challenge, and it should be noted that aside from the ongoing cosmetic changes at Goodison Park, extensive remodeling of the stadium to comply with new rules for disabled supporters will be taking place alongside the development of the Hub and the old St Francis de Sales club.

However, unlike the failed Kings Dock Arena move and the aberration that was Destination Kirkby, supporter optimism surrounding a relocation to Bramley Moore Docks is founded on solid ground.

Now, it appears that Everton Football Club has managed to land not just one but two superb international businessman with a wealth of experience, and finally the wherewithal and means to make things happen at the club.

And without breaking any rules.

 

Follow Watched Toffee on Twitter