THE RACING GURU
When he arrived in Santander as the new Racing owner he revolutionised the city.He
promised investments, starsignings and boasted about a fortune of thousands of millions. Just
as he had announced in Oceania loans to companies who now accuse him of swindling.
Controversial and mysterious AAS received David Lopez in his headquarters in Bahrain. Envied
millionaire or international con artist?
“If we are to die it is He who decides” he declares pointing to the ceiling with his right index
finger. Then he smiles.”If we are to become rich. It is He who decides” repeating the gesture.
Two enormous precious stones, one green the other burgundy, crown his middle and index
fingers embedded in silver rings. “If we we are to become famous, it is He who decides” AAS
(Hyderabad, India, 1972), owner of Real Racing Club de Santander, has not disappeared. Nor is
he in hiding, like some parts of the press or partners have said. In a dark suit, violet shirt and
beige shoes and socks, he receives me sitting in a leather armchair that matches his shoes, and
bearing his name embroidered in gold, in front of his immaculate and bare desk, in an expanse
of office 27 floors above ground level. Opposite the building, the city of Manama, of rising
construction, as it aspires to become an international business centre with tax advantages for
those who set up business there, like Ali. And on the other side of the air conditioning, the
threat of extreme heat and a dust cloud that saturates colour. “I’m in Bahrain, this is my
home.” he announces. A stage in the ever rain-sodden Santander on the other side of the
world, that Mr. Ali, as he is called, turned upside down last winter when he became owner of
the football club.
He had made a triumphal entrance into the city. ”Not even Botín”, they say in Santander. In
October he set foot in Spain for the first time. “I knew little about the country. Only that the
Spanish are friendly and warm, as I was to prove, although my experience has not been too
long,” Ali tells me, at the start of a chat that began in a friendly way and that would end with
threats in a car park. Dumviro, the construction company owner, stricken by the crisis, decided
to sell the club and the bank Credit Suisse introduced Ali as a possible buyer, an Indian from a
rich Indian family. He arrived in Madrid in his private jet. He went to the Cantabrian restaurant
Aderezo, owned by the Racing owners, and there, over a lunch without food, alcohol or
tobacco – as demanded by the businessman, a strict Muslim, who threatened to go when
faced with the possibility of being served pork, -he declared his interest in buying the club.
Three hours later, he was enthused. A week later, then in Santander, his passion hadn’t waned
at all. He was taken for his first stroll around the city and he asked to know where Emilio Botín
lived. When they took him to El Sardinero, he declared that he wanted a house the same next
to the banker’s. “I’m thinking of settling here, “ he suddenly declared. “The only problem is
that it rains a lot.”
Dumviro asked for 17 million euros. Ali offered 13. In the end they agreed upon 15 (plus a debt
of similar proportions owed to the Spanish Inland Revenue). And months later,in January,
Dumviro and the Government of Cantabria, still headed by Miguel Angel Revilla, closed the
sale. “The Indian”, as he is still referred to in Santander, became the club’s great saviour. And
also the new , and exotic, sensation in this placid city of less than 200,000 inhabitants, more
used to classic polar necked sweaters than polka dot cravats.
And the show began. Ali travelled in his jet, from Switzerland or Bahrain. He rented a complete
floor of the Hotel Real. He was surrounded by a dozen bodyguards and personal assistants who
made tea or rolled up his sleeves when he went to the bathroom, and communication
consultants. And he moved around the city in five luxurious white Mercedes hired in Bilbao.
The fleet of limousines respected neither speed limits nor traffic lights. In fact during one
match, trusted Italian Claudio Loiodice, who handled security, had a run-in with the police, ,
was arrested, released from the cells in the small hours by Revilla and the Racing President
Francisco Pernía, and weeks later sentenced for aggression.
“If you see Ali, tell him that the President of Cantabria is very angry with him , because he lied
to me,” scoffs Revilla, one sunny July morning, from his new office as opposition leader in the
Cantabria Parliament. When the Indian tycoon arrived in Santander he came with a sack of
promises. For Racing he announced a yearly investment of 50 million euros aimed at breaking
the grip of Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spanish football. For the City Council, several million
in charity donations. And for Cantabria, another blank cheque for the account of the Comillas
Foundation, to which Botín also contributed, the greatest attraction for Ali. He even
announced to Revilla that he would try to sign David Beckham, that he wanted to meet the
King, and he described a fortune to him , created, he told him, thanks to Bollywood
productions.”I don’t recall that conversation, “ the businessman assures me, when I tell him
that his name doesn’t appear on any record as being a film producer. “He’s sharp. And he
looks at you with eyes that seem to drill right through you”, the former president concedes,
while he still remembers that he invited him to lunch and had to wash his steak down water
instead of wine.
Ali is a spectacle. When his team scored he would jump up and down and scream with delight
in the protocol calm of the VIP box. He would have his photo taken by kids in the street. His
bodyguards acted like Harrelson’s Men. In February he began to prepare his grand finale.
Loiodice, ex-cop with a long career in Italy, had worked for from the previous summer. The
businessman told him that he would invite both the King and Prince of Bahrain to attend the
clash Racing would have with Real Madrid in Santander on 6 March. And he asked him to
assess risks and coordinate security with the embassy of Bahrain in Madrid (which doesn’t
exist). A week before the match, his boss told him that the plan was cancelled. The country
was immersed in a wave of social revolts and the royal family was not able to travel to Spain.
That 6 March , in the VIP box in El Sardinero, the Indian wasn’t as exultant as always. Sitting
next to Florentino Perez -” You’ve brought a right beauty“, joked the President of Real Madrid
behind the scenes- Ali gave off a lower profile.
From that day, Mr Ali’s circus started losing gas. ”On his last trips he no longer
brought his Mercedes nor his cortege. Only him and three Mariachis” (TRANSLATOR’S NOTE -
derogatory term for sidekicks –literally guitar playing sombrero wearing Mexicans), joked
Jacobo Montalvo. One such “Mariachi”, Omer Khan, Ali’s head of financial services, his
lieutenant, has now been sacked, according to the Indian, “ for having committed
irregularities.” In the meantime complaints started being raised. The businessman hadn’t paid
the outstanding debt owed to the players and he gave them excuse after excuse. In May he
went to Santander for the last time. Then he disappeared. Or that’s what they said. And
Pernía, Racing president, declared that the Indian had attempted to sell the club to the Royal
Family. He (Ali) refutes this in front of me, “I want the club for me and my family”. However, at
the start of June, when Pernía visited him for the last time in Bahrain, Ali still fed him with “the
great interest of the Prince in knowing how Racing was doing”.
The story fitted. Only the unexpected Arab spring, infected during violent weeks in the streets
of the Emirate, had derailed the plan. Today, in Santander, Pernía, Revilla and Montalvo accuse
each other of having brought the Indian to Santander. And Racing is under bankruptcy
protection because Ali, who had stumped up a total of almost 5 million euros, hadn’t paid the
next installments of the contract. According to him, an outstanding lawsuit against Dumviro
brought by former partners of Montalvo’s, was threatening the purchase. “I regret that this is
happening and I am sorry about the situation te team isgoing through. There is no need for
this, because I have money to invest, he says, solemnly.
- Why did you buy the club?
- Firstly, due to my ambition.And secondly, to enter the world of sport. I like
football.And I wished to diversify my sporting investments.i am also the owner of a
stables where I breed horses.
- When you signed the contract you already knew of the problem with Montalvo’s
former partners. Now you use it as an excuse. You haven’t paid what you owe the club
nor the Government, which are not involved in this dispute. Why?
- I will not pay if I don’t have the club. I will only do this when I am the owner.All I say is
that they resolve this old problem, give me te club, and take their money.
- Do you still promise to invest 50 million euros?
- I will invest what my pocket allows me to invest.
- And to place the club at the same level as Real Madrid and Barcelona?
- That level I don’t know, but a recognized team, yes.
Ali starts to shift in what his assistant assures me is his favourite armchair, upholstered
in green, and only used by him. He sticks to his answers, gesticulates. But he mixes the
most serious of gestures and his brusquest tone with spontaneous smiles. He
confesses that what he least likes about himself is that he is too short. He states that
he is a fan of Italian food states that he is a fan of Italian food, as well as Indian,
Harrison Ford films and those from India, and John Grisham’s novels as well as
encyclopedias of Indian law. In Spain the former Racing owners await a judicial order
that will permit them, as has been signed to recover the shares and the control of the
club due to non-fulfillment of payments to be able to start a new process of sale. Will
Ali thus become an exotic parenthesis? No.
During the winter, while the display of luxury waned, the Australian and New Zealand
press uncovered certain accusations of fraud made by businessmen in their countries
at the hands of Western Gulf Advisory (WGA) with a base in Bahrain and presided over
by its owner, the Indian businessman Ahsan Ali Syed. Ali Syed? The Mr Ali who had
bought Racing? Yes.
Ali and his sequitur created the image of a powerful businessman. He shielded behind
the distance of Asia, in Indian exoticism, and he went as far as to proclaim, as he did in
Spain, that he had a fortune of 10,000 million euros (which would place him among
the 100 richest men in the world) but he did not feature in the Forbes list because it
did not “interest” him to appear in it. Today he denies that. “I have no idea where that
came from .I din’t know who wrote that.”
- Could you tell me about your history and that of your family?
- I come from the South of India. I grew up there. I studied law in Bangalore and started
- You studied law and immediately afterwards you became rich?
- I would not say rich. I would say a businessman. Everybody, rich or poor, we do our
work to make a living.
- What was your life like in India?
- I mean your family, what social class did you belong to? What was your family
- Farming and the property business.
- If you don’t have those 10,000 million, how large is your fortune?
- WGA has, according to the 2010 financial year report 820 million dollars.
Visibly uncomfortable, he brushes the questions off. He gives short answers. He avoids
opening up, like he does by turning his family photos around so that his wife and three
daughters are not photographed. And he does not allow us to photograph the two photos of
himself greeting the King of Bahrain. Both at the same event.
“He isn’t rich. He’s the son from a middle class Muslim family. His late father was an employee
in a company. The only thing he has in India is a flat shared with his three uncles, inherited
from his father ,and debts. He didn’t even study Law at the National School of Bangalore, he
did in a law college in Gulbarga, in the state of Karntaka”, I am told , from Hyderabad, by
journalist Shariff Ishaqui, from the newspaper Deccan Chronicle, who has investigated Ali’s
past. Moreover, in his home town Ali was reported for a presumed scam in 2002 by the
St.Meesum school “He told me he would give me a 100.000 euro loan but I had to pay
commissions and taxes beforehand. He never gave me the loan and I don’t recover my money
either. I lost 12,000 euros. I personally know four other victims of his. But I’m the only one who
reported him”, Ali Abedi the centre administrator informed me. The owner of Racing denies
the accusation. “In India everyone knows me. Do you want to travel there and find out for
yourself?” he suggests to me.
In 2002, the same time when he was reported, Ali left India to settle in London. He continued
as a complete unknown in Europe. And this would have been so if last summer he hadn’t burst
on the press scene with his attempt to buy football club Blackburn Rovers, a historic club in the
English Premier League. “He arrived backed by the best banks, lawyers and communication
consultants, a director from the Premier league recalls. He was offering 355 million euros. But
when he was asked to guarantee the money stepped back and pulled out of the deal.”Anyway,
he wouldn’t have passed our controls. If they had consulted us from Racing perhaps they
might have prevented their current situation,” he adds.
What he did during his years in England, until he set himself up in Bahrain in 2008 remains a
mystery. During his bid for Blackburn the British press revealed that he had only a few minor
debts to his name-the costs of a trial to be paid, the motive of which is unknown, and a list of
companies opened in his name and closed without any activity. Who was the mysterious
Indian who and tried to buy Blackburn Rovers?
In 2008 he landed In Bahrain and founded his company WGA,with a base in Switzerland and as
he now informs me in Amsterdam. Only a few months before tempting Blackburn the
company presented and incredible report for the financial resultsof 2009.According to this
same report, that Vanity Fair has had access to, after an initial investment of 37,000 euros ,he
ended 2008 with 44 million. And only one year later he completed the following financial year
with 840 million. The international auditors BDO signed that report. Today they dodge
answering but they broke their relationship with WGA shortly after its publication.
However, 12 months later, and according to Ali he closed 2010 with 820 million
euros. A case worth studying: bang in the middle of world crisis, in two years WGA had
multiplied its initial investment 23,000 fold. And a year later after announcing his arrival in
Georgia as his next objective (the authorities of the country confirm that this has not
happened) he would lose 20million.
With the credentials of this supposed success his company started to move in Malaysia, New
Zealand and Australia. It published advertisements, contracted PR agencies-today he still owes
them money, just as with the Spanish You First Sports, and he had intermediaries established
in the said countries. He offered evaluation and loans backed by Ali’s fortune, for companies in
financial difficulty. He announced loans of up to 400 milion euros with a surprisingly low
interest of 4 per cent.. And the accusations started.
According to ten of these cases-whose documents we have analysed- he could have
committed a similar scam to that for which he was reported in India. Just as he was accused ,
he asked for up to 0,8% of the total loan sought to be advanced to him as payment for
commissions and taxes. Then the loan was turned down. And when the clients asked for the
return of the money advanced ,-and they are still asking- they were given all kinds of excuses,
but never the money. And that went on for months. To date, two companies , Johnson
Property Group (JPG) in Australia,and McNabb, in New Zealand have lodged official
complaints,and have succeeded in getting WGA’s accounts frozen in Bahrain (less than 5000
euros shared among 4 accounts, according to what our investigation has uncovered) and in
Switzerland. Though Ali refutes that once again.”Have a look around you. Do you think they
have frozen my assets?”
Having spent half a day in his headquarters, luxurious , spacious and littered with horse heads-
the symbol of his company- in bronze and porcelain, but with hardly a dozen employees all of
whom were surprisingly young to be coordinating a network of 3,200 consultants he says he
has, we talk in his study. He has exuded confidence, until asked about the complaints lodged.
When I comment to him that the Australin police and Interpol are aware of the accusations,
his mood changes. A dozen times he asks me about the police investigations. When I insist on
knowing how great his fortune is, with one of his characteristic smiles, which ranges between
hospitable and cheeky: “Didn’t you say that they were investigating me? Well let them find out
A dozen businessmen have joined forces and are working together to bring Ali to justice along
with his man in Australia, lawyer John Mullaly. The group’s spokesman is John Carter. He is not
a victim. But his friend Keith Johnson is. The owner of JPG, and whom WGA has in turn sued
for defamation. The Australian assures me that he will not give up until he has “finished Ali”.
Carter launched the website wikifrauds.net in February, where the whole presumed scam is
explained, after first unsuccessfully trying to pressure the Indian into paying his debts (Ali has
denounced that they have extorted him). According to Carter there could be victims in at least
four countries, including Europe, and the money scammed could reach 300 million euros. Are
the people who accuse him, according to Ali, businessmen whose companies had gone
through, simply seeking revenge after his refusal to give them loans? Or is Ali Syed, as Pernía
calls him,”a fibbing little kid in the body of a 40-year-old man,” or as Revilla has portrayed him
“more tycon than tycoon”? (Translator’s note: the Spanish is a play on words and works
better. magnate –(magnate, tycoon) mangante (thief, crook) but I think my translation
conveys the idea!)
His time in Spain was pure show-business, certainly. But this came to an abrupt end after that
match against Real Madrid. The cortege and the Mercedes disappeared. Not only because the
King of Bahrain did not attend the match, but also because he started having problems with
Loiodice. The Italian declared to me from Turin, where he lives, that he has taken legal action
in Switzerland and Bahrain, to whose authorities he has sent a 1500 page dossier. He became
the Indian’s right hand man.”He wanted me by his side at all times, as if he was worried
something was going to happen to him. At times I got the impression that he was a very lonely
man, with a lot of enemies, something I imagined normal in the life of a tycoon. I even thought
he wanted to imitate me, because at the end of the day we would chat and he would repeat
things to me that I had told him only hours before or tell me about experiences he had had
which were in fact mine.”
Loiodice denounces that Ali owes him money for services rendered. He ran the security
arrangements in Spain and also paid bills initially. After that match their relationship came to
an end.”I can’t tell you how it happened, because it forms part of my lawsuit. But then I
discovered the excuses that he gave for not paying me were the same he gave to the club and
The Italian got fed up of listening to excuses too. Every time Mr Ali spoke in public or in private
chats that we have learnt about, he displayed exaggerated ostentation and made promises
that he would not keep. And he enjoyed boasting about the excellent relationship he had with
the Royal Family (he gained proximity to them by sponsoring sports events such as the King’s
Cup horse race or the football team).”The king is like my brother,” he went so far as saying to
Revilla, to whom in a gesture repeated with everybody, he showed a photo with the king.
Although the Indian is not one of the guests at the Grand Prix held in Bahrain, as I was told by a
businessman close to the Royal Family, and to the organization of Formula One and who IS a
regular in this VIP section.
A strange absence for one so close to the monarch and among whose challenges, as he says, is
to get involved in motor sport. He already sponsors a minor championship with Chevrolet in
Bahrain, but he has repeated that he has more ambitious plans and that he would be setting
up a Formula 3 team (he tells me that he project is for GP2 or Gp3, other categories).
Nevertheless, none of the organizers of these competitions know Ali. With Pernía he really
took the biscuit: “I’ll buy the McLaren Formula One team”.
The Indian goes to great lengths to show off his millionaire’s trappings. He proudly showsme
the model of his future mansion, that has been under construction for the last four months,
according to his explanation. However, only a month before he had taken the Racing president
to see the plot: it was bare.”How many square feet is Botin’s house?” Ali asked Pernía.”Only?
That’s like my servants’ living room,” he boasted when the president estimated the size of the
banker’s house. We insist on visiting the stables where he has his thoroughbreds. According to
his website, he bought them in Newmarket, England. However, nobody there either, neither
the horse associations, nor horse brokers, nor bookies had heard of the sale. He agrees to
taking us to the stables the following day. There are three horses there. He explains that only
the Arabs are there, that the English horses can’t tolerate the heat of the Emirate in summer
and that he had had them sent to an estate he has in Normandy. “It’s not true. The horses
aren’t his. The only thing he owns here is the stable, and that he rents off the real owner, who
lives outside Bahrain,” a fact revealed to me a few days after the visit by a reputed trainer and
horse owner in the Arab country.
Ali refutes all accusations. He regrets the fame that he has acquired because of Racing-“It has
made my life more hectic”- but he admits that he likes the popularity. The evening before, our
interview in his office didn’t end well. He was angry. And he showed this on the way to the car
park, insulting me for half an hour, accusing me of having travelled to Bahrain to attack him
and threatening to sue me.”If there are ten cases of businessmen complaining against me, I’ll
slit my throat”, he promised, dramatically, passing his index finger across his throat. When I
name ten companies he forgets his promise. And, aware that the clash would jeopardize his
image he smiled again and said goodbye telling me that we would visit the stables.”Horses are
strong, sincere and loyal animals,” he said.
There, before saying goodbye for good, he started a fresh attack.”Why do you always attack us
rich people? Why do you attack me and people like Ecclestone and Abramovich?”. His tone of
voice rises. Then lowers. He smiles again. And then Ali, Mr.Ali, points his finger to me again,
the same finger that had pointed to the ceiling in his office and the one the day before he had
passed across his throat. Now he points to me.”I ask only one thing of you, to write the truth.”