NEWCASTLE United and West Ham United were raided by the taxman yesterday as part of a £5 million fraud probe into football transfers and agent fees – thought to have been triggered by striker Demba Ba’s transfer between the clubs in 2011.
The Senegal star, 31, made 54 appearances for the Toon before signing for Chelsea in 2013.
It is believed investigators scrutinised the separate UK transfers and launched an inquiry last year.
A source said: “They then started looking at other player transfers, ownership, payments to players and agents and crucially image rights.
“Image rights had been widely used to avoid paying national insurance and income tax on player salaries. The money was paid into offshore accounts.
“Newcastle and West Ham were repeatedly asked to cooperate but officers felt they were far from helpful. There is a large focus on the movements of players between France and England from 2011 onwards. French authorities are assisting.”
There have been numerous transfers between French League One side Marseille and both Newcastle and West Ham in recent years.
The most high profile is Dimitri Payet’s switch from Marseille to London in 2015 for more than £15million. He rejoined his former club for £25million in January.
Newcastle bought France winger Florian Thauvin for a reported £15million in 2015 and loaned him back to Marseille for two seasons.
He is due to be sold back to Marseilles this summer for £9.8million.
Other French player transfers implicated include those of Yohan Cabaye and Mathieu Debuchy.
Cabaye left Newcastle in 2014 and joined French side Paris Saint-Germain before returning to England with Crystal Palace in July 2015.
Debuchy left Newcastle at the same time and joined Arsenal. The defender is currently on loan to French side Bordeaux.
Another transfer due to be examined by fraud investigators is that of Henri Saivet who was signed by Newcastle from Bordeaux for £4.5million in January 2016.
Saivet’s move triggered a row involving his agent of ten years Franck Peslerbe, Newcastle chief scout Graham Carr and the Magpies managing director Lee Charnley.
Peslerbe claimed Carr told Saivet he would have to change agents if he wanted to move to Newcastle.
The Senegal international, 25, allegedly signed a five-and-a-half year deal after switching to agent Rudy Raba.
Peslerbe claims the Magpies subsequently increased the agent’s fee from the standard five per cent of Saivet’s £35,000-a-week salary to eight per cent. It meant Raba banked £800,000 —— £300,000 more than Peslerbe would have earned.
The contract, seen by The Sun, demands Raba’s commission be paid upfront rather than the usual staggered payments over the length of the deal.
Peslerbe said: “Henri called me and said he had received a call from Carr, who asked him to sign a mandate with Raba if he really wanted to move to Newcastle.
“Carr had apparently said to Henri that it was difficult to make a deal with a French agent, so it was better for him to let this other agent work on the deal.
“I immediately called and emailed Carr to give him the chance to say he had no direct part in it. I got no response so I emailed Charnley about it and he replied telling me not to contact Carr anymore about this case.
“But what reason could there be for Carr to tell the player to sign for another agent?”
Neither the Metropolitan, City of London, nor the Northumbria Police force were involved in the raids.
At a recent parliamentary hearing the HMRC said 43 players, 12 teams and eight agents were being investigated.
They said the probe was looking at “the potential abuse” of the rules relating to image rights. It described the image rights issue as “the most significant tax risk among footballers”.
In December, Wayne Rooney was revealed as one of the players under suspicion for “tax-dodging”.
The Manchester United and England star was named by MP Charlie Elphicke as among those being “accused of dirtying the beautiful game with a culture of excessive greed”. Rooney denies wrongdoing.
Tax investigation expert Mark Taylor said: “HMRC has been targeting football, image rights and payments made under transfer for some time. This is the biggest HMRC criminal action into football. It is on an eye-opening scale.”
The HMRC said: “We have arrested several men working within the professional football industry for a suspected income tax and national insurance fraud.
“A total of 180 HMRC officers have been deployed across the UK and France. This criminal investigation sends a clear message that, whoever you are, if you commit tax fraud you can expect to face the consequences.
Newcastle said: “We can confirm a member of staff has been assisting HMRC with inquiries.”
West Ham said: “The club is cooperating fully with HMRC.” Chelsea said: “HMRC has requested certain information which the club will provide.”
Demba Ba now plays for Turkish side Besiktas.
Rights and wrongs
IMAGE rights cover everything about the player he and his club can use to make money in commercial deals.
They include his name, nickname, photographs, autograph and voice.
A player’s wages are subject to tax in the usual way, at 45 per cent on earnings over £150,000 a year.
But if a club pays an image rights company on his behalf, he only pays corporation tax at 20 per cent.
And the club does not have to pay national insurance contributions.
It is viewed by the taxman as a way of reducing payments.