How money launderers targeted football clubs

In a recent criminal case that has come to light, a football club was revealed to have been the target for a sophisticated money laundering operation. A criminal cabal involving three solicitors exploited vulnerabilities within the clubs, taking advantage of lax due diligence procedures and establishing a troubling nexus between criminals, football, and money laundering. 

The money laundering operation

Five men, including three solicitors: Iain Robertson, Alastair Blackwood and David Lyons along with Mohammed Aziz and Robert Ferguson, were recently convicted and subsequently imprisoned for between 16 months to seven years. The men were convicted for their involvement in a sophisticated money laundering operation that involved hacking into the bank account of the owner of Derby County football club. Ian Robertson’s law firm in Paisley, Renfrewshire, Robertson & Ross, acted as a channel for nearly £1.5 million of illicit funds, of which almost £1 million was transferred from the account of the undisclosed millionaire football boss. The convicted individuals, including Robertson, denied the charges but were found guilty at the High Court in Glasgow.

Lack of due diligence procedures

This case draws attention to the lack of robust due diligence procedures within football clubs. The criminals behind the operation took advantage of inadequate security measures, exploiting vulnerabilities to gain unauthorised access to sensitive financial information. The absence of stringent checks and balances allowed the illicit funds to flow through the law firm, leaving the football club owner allegedly unaware until his bank’s fraud team intervened. 

A Law Society of Scotland probe into the Robertson and Ross legal firm sparked four separate money laundering transactions. Fake identification – including a passport and driving licence – was put together to help cover up what was really happening. By the time the stolen money was laundered through the law firm, the Law Society was already carrying out an inspection. 

Robertson’s law firm also involved solicitors in England who acted on behalf of a property transaction which was also fraudulent. Over £180,000 was profited from the supposed sale which was sent to the client account of the law firm. One of the convicted men, Mohammed Aziz, used the proceeds to buy gold from a pawnbroker. 

The incident serves as a wake-up call for football clubs to prioritise implementing effective due diligence protocols to safeguard their financial transactions.

The Nexus: criminals, football, and money launderers

The trial and subsequent convictions highlighted the intricate web of criminality surrounding the case. The convicted individuals played a crucial role in facilitating money laundering activities, effectively cleaning the proceeds of crime and providing access to ill-gotten gains for other criminals. The connections forged between criminals and football clubs demonstrate how illicit activities can infiltrate the world of professional sports, with serious consequences for the integrity of the game and the reputation of those involved.

The consequences

The court recognised the severity of the crimes committed by the convicted individuals. Ian Robertson, along with David Lyons, Mohammed Aziz, and Alistair Blackwood, was found guilty of involvement in serious organised crime and violations of the Proceeds of Crime Act. They were sentenced to substantial prison terms, reflecting the gravity of their actions. The judge emphasised the defendants’ role in compromising trust and integrity, highlighting the expectations society places on legal professionals and their obligation to uphold the highest ethical standards.

The case serves as a stark reminder of the vulnerabilities faced by football clubs in the face of money launderers. The absence of robust due diligence procedures and the criminal nexus that exploits these weaknesses pose significant risks to the integrity of the sport and the individuals involved. To protect their finances and reputations, football clubs must prioritise implementing comprehensive safeguards, working closely with legal and financial experts to combat money laundering threats effectively. Only through proactive measures can the beautiful game remain untainted by illicit activities seeking to exploit its vulnerabilities.

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