Monaco based lawyer named in the Panama Papers linked to various multi-million pound loans received by Everton FC through numerous and seemingly separate offshore companies
A giant leak of offshore records from law firm Mossack Fonseca, known as the Panama Papers, has revealed the connection between a Monaco lawyer, English and Irish billionaires, third party player deals, and several multi-million pound loans to Everton Football Club.
Hidden away within the cache of 11.5 million records and more than 214,000 offshore entities is Iberian Marine Corp. A company incorporated by Mossack Fonseca in March 1983 in the offshore tax haven of Panama.
Jurgen Mossack, the Panama-based lawyer and co-
Named alongside Mossack as both treasurer and director of Iberian Marine Corp is Monaco resident and lawyer Simon Crispin Groom. A name inextricably linked to Everton FC by a paper trail going back to 2011 and through offshore tax havens including Panama, the British Virgin Islands (BVI), Switzerland, Monaco and the Isle of Man (IOM).
Monaco lawyer and Principality resident Simon Groom has held and holds many directorships across the globe. From ‘the number one superyacht owner-operator charter company’ Liveras Yachts, The European Open Golf Championship Limited and numerous other companies alongside English and Irish billionaires, members of the Barbados billionaire ‘Sandy Lane set’ and the so called Irish Golden Circle.
Groom has direct links to offshore companies registered in Panama, Geneva, Monaco, BVI, the IOM and beyond. Including various property and trust companies involving Ireland’s honorary consul to Monaco in perpetuity, another member of the ‘Celtic Tigers,’ Michael Smurfit. As well as the Secretary General of the Monaco Large Yacht Brokers’ Association (LYBrA) and CMA Chambre Monégasque de l’Assurance, Eric Blair. Who for the last twenty years also happens to have been the UK Honorary consul to Monaco.
Groom has an interest in a raft of other offshore companies involved in shipping, superyachts, golf, football and horse racing.
Simon Groom is the co-founder and partner of Monaco based law firm Groom Hill. A firm with seemingly much in common with the Panama based Mossack Fonseca.
‘Groom Hill is a leading independent private client law firm based in the Principality of Monaco. Our work has an international focus and our practice areas include corporate and commercial, real estate and yachting transactions, trusts and estate planning and Monaco residence. Our clients include entrepreneurs and other private individuals with whom we have a close relationship and for whom we often set up and administer family offices. We also act for international companies and legal and accounting firms in many jurisdictions.’
Vibrac Corporation and Balzane Services SA
Simon Groom’s connection to Everton FC can be traced back to August 2011 when the club, unable to secure further loans from high street banks, began borrowing money secured against future TV and broadcasting rights from the mysterious BVI registered Vibrac Corporation.
Charge documents at Companies House are signed off on behalf of Vibrac Corporation by Robert Heppel. An accountant working for an anonymous Swiss company, Balzane Services SA, with an address at Rue du Rhône 50, 1204, Geneva.
From 2011 through to 2014, BVI based Vibrac Corporation used Balzane Services SA as a vehicle to transfer ‘movable assets’ through Switzerland, and on to Premier League clubs including Everton, Reading, Southampton, Fulham and West Ham United.
Named alongside the signatory Robert Heppel, as both a director and vice-president of Balzane Services SA is the Monaco based lawyer Simon Groom.
As revealed in this public disclosure document Balzane Services SA was also the intermediary in the buyout of substantial blocks of shares in the pub company Mitchells & Butlers. A deal, according to the Guardian involving both English and Irish race horse magnets, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith, and JP McManus and John Magnier. As well as billionaire Tottenham Hotspur owner and resident of the Bahamas, Joe Lewis.
With directorships of Chelston (Ireland), and Chelsaus (Ireland) alongside fellow directors, Clem Murphy, Michael Ryan and Pat Keogh, Simon Groom has yet deeper connections to Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, John Magnier, JP McManus and the Irish race owning circle.
Both companies are listed as: Farming Of Sheep, Goats, Horses, Asses, Mules And Hinnies. And are registered at the same address: Coolmore Stud farm – Home of the finest stallions, Fethard, Co Tipperary, Ireland.
Perhaps coincidentally the office out of which JP McManus has reportedly made his fortune playing the financial markets is just a few doors down from Balzane Services SA. Apparently situated above a Jeweler, the address given is 40 Rue du Rhone, Geneva.
And a further search reveals another direct connection between Simon Groom and London bookie made-Monaco-billionaire Michael Tabor, through a Panama based vehicle by the name of Galileo Holdings. Galileo being the famous race horse and later world class Coolmore stud, owned by Tabor and John Magnier’s wife, Sue.
Tabor, resident in both Monaco and Barbados was born in the east end of London to Jewish immigrants. The avid West Ham supporter, bookmaker, businessman, gambler, owner of thoroughbred racehorses, and the Sandy Lane resort, is alongside the likes of Joe Lewis, JP McManus, John Magnier, Derrick Smith and longstanding friend Philip Green, also a member of the so called Barbados billionaire ‘Sandy Lane set.’
According to his Horse Licensee Details, Michael Tabor’s Monaco address is: Le Roccabella, 24 Avenue Princess Grace, Monaco, Monte Carlo. One of the tax haven’s most exclusive residences and an address shared by billionaire retail magnate Philip Green and his wife Tina Green.
When the then financial editor of the Guardian, Paul Murphy (born in Oldham), wrote a piece questioning Green’s sale of British Home Stores (BHS). Green was said to have been furious as he contacted the Guardian by phone:
“He can’t read English. Mind you, he is a f***ing Irishman.”
Unknown to Philip Green the conversation had been recorded and the Guardian published Green’s outburst. The retail magnet felt the need to make a public apology to ‘the Irish.’
“The remark had been made in the heat of the moment [and] was not a general comment.” Mr Green told The Guardian: “Some of my best friends are Irish — Michael Smurfit, Dermot Desmond, JP McManus.”
Super Agents, Third Party Player Deals and a Lawyer to the Stars
Groom’s dealings within professional football has not solely been concerned with offshore financing as can be seen with his role at the now dissolved company, Selkan Limited.
Selkan Limited appointed Simon Groom as company secretary on 26 July 2005. The named director of Selkan Limited was Jonathan Barnett. Better known as super-agent Jonathan Barnett. Who, among others, is the agent of Welsh international, former Spurs and current Real Madrid superstar Gareth Bale. And, coincidentally, several current and ex-Everton FC players.
Selkan Limited was involved in purchasing part ownership of footballers and receiving a percentage of the transfer fee when the players were sold. And Selkan were directly linked to Rio Football Services, otherwise known as Global Soccer Agencies Limited and Global Soccer Investments, and associated with Media Sports Investment owned by and connected to super-agents Pini Zahavi and Kia Joorabchian.
Jonathan Barnett’s latest vehicle, The Stellar Group Limited has three named shareholders. Barnett himself, ex-property developer and now sports agent David Manasseh and Barnett’s lawyer, Graham Shear.
Shear’s name can be found on the Reading FC/Vibrac charge documents, and Shear has publicly disclosed he had acted for Vibrac on the offshore company’s takeover of Reading.
Somewhat bizarrely, Shear also became vice-president – and racehorse owner and Monaco resident Malcolm Caine, the president – of a club in Uruguay that earned $14 million from transfers despite only having 200 fans.
Cutting ties with Vibrac?
In August 2015 both Everton and West Ham United appeared for all intents and purposes to sever a four year tie with BVI registered Vibrac Corporation, and instead both clubs struck deals to borrow against future broadcasting rights with London based JG Funding.
An opaque company whose address, Adelaide House, London Bridge, London EC4R 9HA, happens to be the same as Graham Shear’s law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner.
Intriguingly JG Funding had in the past been provided funds from yet another BVI registered company, Mousehole Limited. A vehicle according to Bloomberg, directly connected to and registered at the same BVI address as Vibrac.
Mousehole Limited had previously funded Atletico Madrid, Espanyol, Getafe and Valencia, as well as providing finance to Hertha Berlin for a controversial scheme involving a share in the future sales value of two players.
Documents show JG Funding taking loans from two Isle of Man registered offshore vehicles, Kirkton Investments and Carroch Holdings on the very same dates they charged Everton FC (14 August 2015) and West Ham (10 August 2015).
Both charge documents from Kirkton Investments and Carroch Holdings to JG Funding were signed on behalf of JG Funding by its now sole director, Jonathan McMorrow.
However, both documents show IOM based Kirkton Investments and Carroch Holdings, and JG Funding having the same Permitted Third Party Security: Mousehole Limited.
And JG Funding, now known as Rights and Media Funds Limited after a successful application for a change of company name resolution on December 9th, 2015, has three outstanding charges to Mousehole Limited going back to 2011.
Rights and Media Funds Limited (formerly JG Funding) secured the loan to Everton FC using the two IOM offshore companies, Kirkton Investments and Carroch Holdings. Both also give the same address as law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner: Adelaide House, London Bridge, London EC4R 9HA.
And, four years after Balzane Services SA signed off on the first of Everton’s loans from Vibrac Corporation, both the Kirkton Investments document and the Carroch Holdings document (dated August 2015) are Executed as Deed by the named Panama Papers director, Monaco resident, principality lawyer and vice-president of Balzane Services SA, Simon Groom.
As has been widely reported and discussed, the use of offshore companies is not illegal, and some have a legitimate purpose. Indeed, Mossack Fonseca responded to the leaks by claiming it is ‘a responsible member of the global financial and business community.’
However, thanks to the Panama Papers and other leaks, questions are being raised over the use of offshore vehicles and shell companies that conceal the true owners’ identity in shadowy and complex schemes based in Europe and on the other side of the world.
Meanwhile in February 2016, Everton Football Club announced the arrival of a new major shareholder in Iranian born billionaire, and resident of Monaco, Farhad Moshiri.
Moshiri’s stake in the club includes a 23% shareholding formerly held by another offshore entity, BCR Sports. A company set up in the British Virgin Islands, allegedly operated by businessman and ex-Everton director Robert Earl. Another close friend of billionaire retail magnate Sir Philip Green.
BCR Sports was also incorporated at the same accommodation address as Vibrac Corporation and Mousehole Limited, Venterpool Plaza, Wickhams Cay 1, Road Town, Tortola, BVI.
Everton supporters may hope the arrival of ‘new money’ into the club will see an end to the use of opaque loans taken out using virtually untraceable offshore companies.
Perhaps somewhat disconcertingly for some, Mr Moshiri acquired his major shareholding in the club using Blue Heaven Holdings, an offshore vehicle incorporated in the Isle of Man.
Surprisingly, despite rampant speculation surrounding an imminent American takeover of the club, Moshiri’s offshore vehicle was incorporated in August 2015, six months prior to Blue Heaven Holdings 49.9% buyout. Unsurprisingly, with Blue Heaven Holdings being an IOM offshore entity, no records other than its nominee are available to the public.
Perhaps the use of sham, stooge or nominee directors and shell companies that enable true owners to remain invisible to the authorities is no longer the ‘safe haven’ it once was.
Senior government officials from tax authorities around the world have launched an unprecedented international inquiry following the publication of the Panama Papers. Part of the solution they and their governments are seeking involves ‘beneficial ownership’ transparency.
The question the Premier League must face, as the ruling body of the world’s richest football league, is whether its rules on the ratifying of ownership and opaque loans have simply been circumnavigated by the use of nominees by beneficial owners?
And in the particular case of Everton FC, a network of international lawyers and accountants who service the offshore industry for beneficial owners of shell companies such as Mousehole, Vibrac, BCR Sports, JG Funding, Kirkton Investments and Carroch Holdings?