Evidence linking Cambodian diplomat Wang Yaohui to Birmingham City Football Club is now in the possession of the English Football League, RFA has learned.
Last month, the EFL successfully applied to Singapore’s Supreme Court for access to records in a case brought against one of Wang’s companies, according to sources familiar with the court’s decision who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to talk about it publicly. The request was made as part of an ongoing investigation by the league into allegations that Wang secretly controls a substantial part of Birmingham City’s shares, in breach of EFL regulations.
One of the defendants in the Singapore court case is a city-state registered company, Gold Star Aviation Pte Ltd. Birmingham City shares.
Among the court records obtained by the EFL is a sworn affidavit given by one of Wang’s most trusted lieutenants, Jenny Shao, who is also a defendant in the case and was granted power of attorney over Wang’s business for more than a decade. In the affidavit, which RFA has seen, Shao states that “Gold Star’s sole shareholder is Dragon Villa Ltd (“DVL”) and DVL is beneficially owned by Mr. Wang.”
As a member of the EFL playing in the league’s top division, Birmingham City are required to disclose the identity of anyone controlling more than 10% of its shares. While Dragon Villa is in the club declaration of ownership, Wang did not. The disclosure instead describes Dragon Villa as being “controlled” by an individual named Lei Sutong, who is a director or shareholder of several companies linked to Wang.
The discrepancy between Shao’s and Birmingham City’s descriptions of Dragon Villa ownership could have serious repercussions for the club, including misconduct charges or point deductions.
A club spokesman did not respond to a request for comment, but RFA understands Birmingham City management are sticking to their existing ownership disclosure.
Birmingham City’s assurances do not appear to have satisfied the league, which confirmed in a statement to RFA that their investigation was continuing.
“Following our ongoing investigations into the ultimate beneficial ownership of Birmingham City Football Club, we are unable to comment,” an EFL spokesperson told RFA by email, commenting anonymous in accordance with league policies.
The league launched its probe into Wang’s ties with the club in early June, following a FRG survey, which revealed that the Chinese-born Cambodian diplomat and adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen controlled a large but undeclared stake in the club through a series of proxies and front companies. Birmingham City are one of England’s most legendary football teams and currently compete in the second highest tier in the country, just below the Premier League top flight.
The fact that the EFL now has Singapore’s court records may explain why a putative takeover of the club has stalled in recent weeks. Long beset by financial problems and with its stadium in need of serious repairs, many Birmingham City fans are want a new owner. They may have thought their prayers had been answered when an offer was submitted last month by former club manager Paul Richardson and retired professional footballer Maxi Lopez.
Before a transfer of ownership can take place at a football club playing in one of the EFL’s three divisions, the league must approve the sale. To do this, it requires information from both the buyer and the seller about what the ownership structure of the club will be after the sale.
write in Athleticism football journalist Matt Slater last week reported that EFL chief executive Trevor Birch said the league had not received enough information ‘to even consider’ Richardson and Lopez’s offer .
Although the EFL has not specified exactly what information it has yet to receive, Slater suggested the data gap lies with the club’s current owners.
“Athleticism understands that Richardson and Lopez have submitted as much information as possible at this point,” he wrote. “But the club and its current owners have yet to provide full answers to the league’s standard takeover questions.”
A RFA analysis last month calculated that Wang and a close relative named Vong Pech together control more than half of Birmingham City’s shares. Although Vong’s name appears in the club’s official ownership statements, as well as in the stock market filings of its Hong Kong-listed parent company, Wang does not.
Birmingham City owners are now at an impasse. It looks like the EFL won’t allow them to sell until they offer more transparency on exactly who the owners are. But if they do, they risk sanctions from the league and Hong Kong authorities.