Bahrain to probe deals of convicted UK fraudster

BBC's Panorama says man used royal family's name to buy bank shares, football club
Bahrain to probe deals of convicted UK fraudster
A still from the BBCs Panorama programme shows Russell King in his apartment in Bahrain.
By Andy Sambidge
Wed 20 Apr 2011 07:48 PM

Bahraini officials have vowed to investigate claims that a convicted fraudster used the royal family's name to obtain shares in a UK investment bank and take control of an English football club.

Russell King managed to get hold of 49 percent of First London bank shares and took control of Notts County Football Club in 2009 by falsely claiming he was managing billions of dollars for the Bahraini royal family, according to an investigation by the BBC’s Panorama.

First London Bank went into administration last year with debts of GBP8.7 million ($14.2m) while Notts County were left close to bankruptcy with debts of more than GBP7m when the money failed to materialise.

In a programme called The Trillion Dollar Conman that aired in the UK, Russell King’s schemes were seen to take in former England football manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, former UK spymaster Sir John Walker and even the North Korean government, through a company called Swiss Commodity Holding (SCH).

Fawaz Al Khalifa, president of the Bahrain Information Affairs Authority, told the programme: "We have to look into this matter very seriously. Any fraudsters or any people who are using Bahrain as a base will be sent to court or dealt with in the right manner."

He added: "He (King) might have met members of the royal family here or there but we have no connection to him or his company.

"I think he is either a fraudster or lying," he said when asked what he thought about King saying he managed the royals' money. Al Khalifa also said Bahrain had never heard of Abid Hyat Khan, the would-be owner of Notts County and a man introduced to the club by King as a member of the royal family.

The BBC tracked King down to a property in Seef Apartments in Manama where he refused to answer questions.

He is currently banned from leaving Bahrain in relation to a separate civil case in which a Jersey-based company is pursuing him for outstanding loans, the programme said.

In a statement to the BBC, King denied any involvement in the running of Notts County, SCH or First London. He said he was never a shareholder, director or beneficiary in any of the deals and that he only acted as consultant.

The programme said the saga started at the world's oldest football club which was promised millions in Middle East investment.

Eriksson, who signed up as manager of Notts County with the promise of millions to spend, former Football League chairman Lord Mawhinney and former club chairman Peter Trembling all told the BBC that King was in control of the club.

It also described how King set up a company called Swiss Commodity Holding (SCH) in 2009, which claimed to have assets worth $2 trillion because it had obtained the exclusive rights to all of North Korea's gold, coal and iron ore.

Having somehow obtained an audience with officials in North Korea, he took Eriksson to help him secure the deal in return for $1bn of Bahraini money, Panorama said.

Eriksson joined in 2009 and told the BBC: "For me it was fantastic. It was like a draeam so I signed. Big mistake. In the beginning everything was perfect...I started to have doubts when I was told the milk bill had not been paid."

John Armstrong-Jones, Notts County Supporters Trust, which owned the club, added: "We believed we were selling it to some very wealthy benefactorers in the Middle East. We were given to believe they were members of one of the Middle Eastern royal families."

When investment failed to arrive and debts built up at the club, police were called in to investigate.

Ray Trew, the current chairman of the club, told Panorama: "The inquiries are ongoing and I'm hopeful that a prosecution will come out of it...Unquestionably crimes were committed here."

The First London case has been referred to the Serious Fraud Office by the Financial Services Authority (FSA), which was concerned about the unauthorised transfer of bank shares.

King was jailed for two years for fraud in 1991 when he falsely reported a rare Aston Martin car stolen and claimed £600,000 on insurance, Panorama said.

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