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Thu 6 Sep 2012 11:31 AM

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Dubai firm cleared of part in football 'fake sheikh' scam

Royal Emirates not involved in big money swindle involving Spanish football club Getafe

Dubai firm cleared of part in football 'fake sheikh' scam
Dubai’s Royal Emirates, which is headed by Sheikh Butti Bin Suhail Al Maktoum, agreed last year to buy the Madrid-based La Liga football club.

Dubai-based Royal Emirates Group, which is chaired by a member of the ruling Al Maktoum family and last year paid around US$100m to buy Spanish football club Getafe, has been officially cleared of any part of a scheme to swindle the club, a senior executive at the firm told Arabian Business.

Media outlets in the summer reported Spanish police had unmasked a gang of alleged fraudsters posing as representatives of wealthy Arab sheikhs, who promised millions of euros of investment or loans to victims that included Spanish football club Getafe.

Six Spaniards and a man from the Dominican Republic were taken into custody as part of 'Operation Flame' and the group are accused of crimes including fraud and embezzlement, police in the Catalan capital Barcelona said in a statement.

Dubai’s Royal Emirates agreed last year to buy the Madrid-based La Liga football club for around US$100m and some Spanish newspapers and websites accompanied the story with images of Sheikh Butti Bin Suhail Al Maktoum, chairman of Royal Emirates, at the press conference in Dubai announcing the deal.

Despite these reports, Royal Emirates’ managing director Kaiser Rafiq told Arabian Business the firm had no knowledge of the alleged scam and the firm has been officially cleared by Barcelona police of any involvement.

“The police sent us an email [saying] 'you have nothing to do with the case' so we let it go… It was not an apology, but at least they cleared the fact that the media picked it up the wrong way,” Rafiq said.

Rafiq said Royal Emirates had been dragged into the saga because an ex associate of the firm involved in the investigation was found with documents containing details of the Getafe takeover deal

“This guy at the very beginning was involved in the [Getafe] deal so he had some documents sitting in his office… So while the police had some proof that these guys were trying to take some money from some people, while doing [the search] they found some Getafe documents with our name,” Rafiq said.

In a letter to Royal Emirates in July, Jose Eugenio Salarich, Ambassador of Spain to the UAE, said “the Foreign Affairs Ministry has already contacted with most of the journalists responsible for the misleading articles published and are already correcting their entries.”

Rafiq in July hit out at Barcelona police for their handling of the case: “Barcelona Police Officials are still not providing us their official statement because they know very well that they have mislead the media by stating that these fraudsters in the name of Arab Sheikh swindled the Getafe.”.

“They know very well that Mr Angel Torres never filed any complaint with them and they never even contacted Mr Angel Torres before giving the statement or while conducting the investigation,” he added.

The gang arrested by Barcelona police allegedly promised Getafe president Angel Torres a cash injection of €10m as long as the La Liga club maintained their top-flight status and were debt-free.

In return, the club was required to transfer funds as a guarantee of solvency to an account controlled by the alleged fraudsters, but Torres broke off contact with the group when two cheques they had written bounced, Reuters reported.

One Spanish newspaper also claimed the gang held meetings in luxurious hotels in Barcelona which were attended by a false Arab sheikh, who it claimed was in fact a Brazilian waiter who was paid €50 to dress up as a sheikh.

Rafiq also confirmed that Royal Emirates had been given confirmation by Torres that he had not lodged any complaint with Barcelona police and the club had not suffered any financial loss as a result of the attempted swindle.

In an interview with Arabian Business last year, Rafiq said Royal Emirates planned invest up to US$130m in the team over a five-year period.

“We have a big investment we are looking to put into it [and] in the players,” he said in April 2011.

When pushed as to the size of the investment, Rafiq said he “wouldn’t hesitate” to match the purchase price, which was put at between €70m and €90m (US$100-US$130m).

“[We tell] the players the team will get stronger with our support.”

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