40 ~tl'I':1l Busmess
Ahmed AI Faraj and Peter Storrie at the
Portsmouth versus Manchester City game at
the City of Manchester stadium on the 31st
hortly after II am on Sarurday 24th
S October 2009, Mark Jacob began
making a series of extraordinary
phone calls. The then executive director of
Portsmouth Football Club, who normally
worked as a property lawyer with London
firm Fuglers, started dialling the mobile
telephone numbers of Britain's national
newspaper editors. Having completed the
calls, he moved on to the major television
and web-based news organisations before
finally starting on the international media.
When they answered, he began: "There is
a story that has appeared in the Saudi news
paper Ashraq AI Awsal which claims to be
an interview with the owner of Portsmouth,
Ali Al Faraj. In this so-called 'interview',
Mr AI Faraj says he is not a billionaire, that
he hasn't got a clue about football, and is
only interesting in making some fast cash."
The suave lawyer with a perfect cut-glass
public school accent went on to explain
to editors that the interview was in fact a
fake - it had never happened. As he said:
"You can imagine how damaging such a
ridiculous story would be to our club. This
is a totally fake interview. I am calling just
to warn you not to rcpeat any of the claims
made in that article." He added: "This
intcrview is the work of somc bad people
who will face legal action."
As Jacob pointed out, Ali Al Faraj was
a highly-respected businessman who had
taken over the club three weeks earlier. He
was a shareholder in the Saudi-based ~
global chcmical giant Sabic, not to mention was former Portsmouth chief executive performance decline(~ Standard Chartered Sacha I
being a renowned property investor across Peter Storrie, who once described AI Faraj and Barclays demanded repayment ofthcir £30 mil
the Middle East. He had already passed the as a man who would take the club "to a £50 million in loans, and, by early 2009, Fe, thel
Premier League's' fit and proper persons level you wouldn't believe." Gaydamak realised it was time to sell before ended
test' (FPPT) and becn rubbcr-stamped Storrie had certainly been right about there was a financial catastrophe. But, even
by Premier League chairman, Sir David that: when the dust had cleared after the AI then, he had no reason to be worried; English
Richards. Faraj debacle, the club's total debt, admit Premiershjp soccer elubs arc worth serious
There was just one problem for Jacob: tedly not all run up by the Saudi, stood at money, and plenty of people wanted to buy.
the interview was not a fake. It had taken £ I08.6 million. Unsecured creditors were But the problem was that surprisingly few
place, and it had been reported exactly as owed £92.7 million. actually had the cash to fulfil their dreams.
it had happened. Al Faraj, the third owner Portsmouth's problems started during the For every serious prospective buyer of a
of Portsmouth Football Club in 2009, really era of former owner Sacha Gaydamak, who, soccer club, there were a hundred lyre
didn't have very much cash. He was not a in an attempt for glory from 2006 onwards, kickers. Gaydamak told his chief execu
bilLionaire nor, indeed, even a millionaire. authorised an uncontrolled spending spree tive, Peter Storrie, to scll it. Storrie asked
He had never been to Britain, had never on players. It was to prove disastrous, Sir David Richards to help. But a sale was
watched a football match and didn't know although hc did achieve glory. Before complicated; Gaydamak had used various
anything about Portsmouth. Over the next that, Gaydamak had been a good owner, investment vehicles to fund his 00 million
four months, he would fail to pay even the investing nearly £30 million of his family investment in the club, channclling £2.6
cleaners' salarics at the club. He would fortune buying and cstablishing the club at million through Devondale Investments,
mortgage the stadium to raise cash and hire the top level. £22.6 million through acadia Investments
a convicted fraudstcr to nm the club's financial The new money was spent on buying and another n.8 million through a Russian
affairs. By the end of his four-month tenure success on the pitch under the management investment bank, Antanta Securities.
- all under the nose of Sir David Richards of Harry Redknapp. To that extent, it succeeded But, very quickly, Gaydamak found that
- Al Faraj would take the club into financial whcn Redknapp lifted the 2008 FA Cup and no one wanted to buy a club with so much
oblivion, a winding up order an(~ cventually, established the club as a genuine Premier debt. So instead, he decided to try and do
administration. A bigger mess there could ship team. The increased income from that business with someone he could trust to Gay,
not have been. success was meant to pay otf the loan. But gradually repay the debts over a period of It\\':
time. In return, they would effectively gct sow
Plenty of people wanted to buy. But the problem was the club for a nominal sum. Gaydamak the
essentially dccided to give the club away in Clu
that surprisingly few actually had the cash to fulfil their exchange for taking the debts otf his hands Sto'
dreams. For every serious prospective buyer of a soccer club, - a dangerous cocktail indeed. Ch~
At the start of 2(01), Richards contacted Un
there were a hundred tyre-kickers. Pajroj Piempongsant, a Thai business
man who was closc to formcr Thai prime em
Today, Portsmouth Football Club is as soon as Redknapp got a dceent job offer, minister, Thaksin Shinawatra. Richards pu
shattered into many ricces. Relegated from he decamped to Tottenham Hotspur, lcaving thought Thaksin might be interested and Me
the Premicrship, it will be lucky to survivc a financial mess behind him. His successor, asked Piempongsant ifhe could put him in gl\
relegation from the lower leaguc. Even thc Tony Adams, was way out of his depth, and touch with any prospective buyers. He was BII
most diehard optimists don't cxrect it to a decline began, both on the pitch and at the immediately assured that just the right man m"l
survive for much longcr, although most fans bank. was available. That man was Sulaiman Al in"
will remcmber the club for its incredible FA Much of the success had been financed Fahim, a Dubai-based rroperty tycoon. AI SU
Cup victory in 2008. by bank loans. As Adams made his mess, Fahim was not unknown; he had brokered ha
So how did a mysterious Saudi - who financial problcms quickly emergcd. the sale of Manchester City Football Club
to this day has nevcr actually been seen The last sensible accounts were in 2006, the year before to Abu Dhabi's Shcikh arl
in public (and there arc some who claim which showed a pre-tax loss of £1) 12,397. In Mansour, and, having got a taste of Premier hi
he doesn't even exist) - with the help of truth, that was a very respectable perfor League soccer, was keen. He was cven in
a fraudstcr, manage to buy it in the first mance for a soccer club. But that's where keener when he grasped thc fact that thcre ac
place? And how did Richards and the FA let the sanity ended. In 2007, Portsmouth was effectively no purchase price - just a til
him do it, seemingly unmolested? FC lost £23.4 million; in 2008, £ 16.9 promisc to pay at some time in thc future. ql
It all came to a conclusion on Wednesday million; and in 2009, £ 14.47 million. Al Fahim was arguably Dubai's best-known th
21 st April this ycar, two months after AI The losses totalled £55.7 million and it busi nessman. He was the presenter of the
Faraj had his shares in the club seized by his was all financed by a giant bank loan from Middle Eastern equivalent of 'The
crcditors. Thc full extent of the club's finan Standard Chartered Hank and l3arclays. At Apprentice', a TV show that had made tl
cialmess was laid bare in a rerort prepared the heart of thc problem were salalies paid to Donald Trump and Alan Sugar famous in \~
by administrator Andrew Andronikou. players. Salarics accounted for [09 per cent America and Britain. fi
So who is to blame? Certainly Richards of income, an equation matched only by Richards arranged a meeting on 27th
and Mark Jacob, a London-based lawyer the world's richcst soccer club, Manchester May in Rome, and Al Fahim met with Storrie c:
who lent AI Faraj more credibility than he City. to thrash out a deal. With such an amazing
had any right to be accorded. And then thcre After Rcdknapp left and the team's deal on offer, and Al Fahim acceptable to
Irtered Sacha Gaydamak and his father spent more than
Jftheir £30 million buying and building up Portsmouth
)09, Fe, then sowed the seeds of destruction and
11 before ended up getting just £5 million back
tto Gaydamak, a deal was signed. And there
Jd of it was. The seeds of destruction had been
y get sown in one simple act, and Al Fahim was
ak the new owner of Portsmouth Football
way in Club. To celebrate, Richards, AI Fahim and
hands Storrie travelled to Moscow to watch the
Champions league Final between Manchester
acted United and Barcelona.
But all was not as it seemed. It later
;me emerged that AI Fahim had not signed a
ds purchase contract with Gaydamak but a
md Mcmorandum of Understanding (MoU),
imin giving him 90 days to complete the takeover.
ewas But, cmciajJy, Gaydamak had handed over
It man management control. It was an astonish
bAI ing deal and, of course, everyone besides
n.AI Storrie. Richards and Al Fahim believed he
[ered had bought the club. No one knew the truth.
Club Portsmouth fans took to their new owner,
h and the British media also took a shine to
~l1Ier his extravagant style. But AI Fahim was
in for a shock. He sent in a team of He continued the charade and fronted with a property lawyer in London called
there accountants to put a fine-toothed comb it out. In late June, as the 90 days ticked Mark Jacob. The lawyer had some interesting
iSta through the Portsmouth accounts and down, Storrie began to get cold feet and clients, particularly in the Arabian world,
ture. quickly realised he had taken on a lot more gradually worked out that Al Fahim did not who were interested in soccer.
mown than he had bargained for. aChmlly have the money to complete the By now, AI Fahim was also seeking new
'the And then there emerged another tmth. deal. backers. He too had tasted the Premiership
AI Fahim was not the principal. He was When Storrie realised Al Fahim was and liked it. Despite the debts, he wanted
e the front man for some Dubai investors unlikely to complete a deal, he panicked to stay at Portsmouth even if the original
who had pledged him up to £50 million for and contacted the well-connected soccer backers didn't. It had all the makings of
full ownership. When the backers saw the agent Pini Zahavi, an Israeli-born deal a classic mess, with a conflagration of
h accountants' report, and the scale of the maker. Six years earlier, Zahavi had sold would-be owners who had just one thing in
~torrie club's debt began to be made public, they Chelsea Football Club to Roman Abramovich common: they all had no money. And, as all
Zing immediately ran for the hills, and Al Fahim and picked up a £5 million commission. this was happening, the soccer club per
c to was left holding the baby. Zahavi suggcstcd Storrie make contact formed worse and worse with Redknapp ..
:l'\ll 'BlI!Smess 43
Mark Jacob, a solicitor at the respected firm of
Fuglers, represented Ali AI Faraj. However, in
the end, even he was forced to admit that he had
never met his client
Storrie had done a magnificent job of
selling Ali AI Faraj as a potential new owner
for the club and, in the process, hugely
enriched his own reputation as a man
who got things done. Storrie had plenty of
incentive. It later emerged that his annual
salary as chief executive was over a million
pounds a year.
Tn mid-August, Storrie finally came
off the fence and approached Gaydamak
and suggested AI Fahim be dropped and
replaced with the consortium he had put
gone and Tony Adams in charge. Although the negotiations were bizarre, By now fed up and disillusioned with
Storrie began a series of meetings with there was no suggestion that Jacobs acted Storrie, Gaydamak reportedly responded
Jacob and, in order to put pressure on AI incorrectly. He was simply doing the best with four words: "Show me the money."
Fahim, began publicly questioning whether for his client. Ali Al Faraj also had a brother But Storrie couldn't show him the money
Al Fahim would last the course. Storrie was called Ahmed, who was based in London. because there wasn't any to show.
clearly putting together a 'Plan B' just in Ahmed was effectively the go-to guy for his On Wednesday 26th August, Storrie asked
case it was needed. brother and, along with Mark Jacob, looked to meet Gaydamak at 8:30am. AJthough there
Portsmouth's press officer, Gary Double, after Al Faraj's investments. was no hard cash to offer, his consortium,
was the architect of the emerging 'Plan B'. As the start of the new soccer season led by Ali AI Faraj, was ready to take over
Storrie, through Jacob, initiated talks with approached in August 2009, there was still the club, manage the debt and invest in its
a client of his, a Saudi businessman called no sign of AI Fahim completing his deal. future. Gaydamak, dctermined to get some
Ali Al Faraj. Storrie, meanwhile, upped the stakes and thing for his club, told Storrie to wait for his
Storrie and Double were told that Ali Al put more pressure on AI Fahim, telling jour decision later that afternoon.
Faraj was a major property investor who nalists that he could rescue the club thanks With his 'show-me-the-money' ultimatum,
also had a huge holding in the Saudi-based to the super rich consortium he was putting it turned out that only one man was up to the
chemical giant Sabic, not to mention a together. Storrie planted the idea in people's task an(L that, surprisingly, was AJ Fahim.
substantial family trust. They were told heads of a hugely wealthy Saudi called Ali At 10:30am that day, AI Fahim wired £5
that he was a keen sports fan and interested Al Faraj taking over the club. Fans publicly million from his company, Al Fahim Asia
in getting his hands on an English soccer began to demand that AI Fahim step down Associates, into Gaydamak's bank account
club. They were told he had millions at his as chairman. They even started chanting: and, with it, took 100 per cent control of
disposal to pursue his dream of success on "Come on the Faraj Brothers, down with Al Portsmouth Football Club.
the pitch. Fahim." Storrie was shattered by the news, having
l.. . . . . __.. n
4.. _... ...
. 4 S. ;[_......
BUSill_ess_. ! "!iO ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ~= = = = =;_:_- .....~----:--- ...
Sulaiman AI Fahim was the Middle East's
answer to Donald Trump and Alan Sugar. He
fancied himself as the owner of an English
Premiership soccer club, but hadn't thought
through the financial implications
told journalists that Ali AI Faraj could have
taken the club to "a level you wouldn't
bclieve." With that sort of talk, no one in the
media doubted his credentials for a moment.
and reports soon linked Al Faraj with a
likely takeover of London soccer club West
Al Fahim had bought a poisoned
chalice, and none of the club's intense cash
problems were solved by his takeover - £5
million was all he had.
The following month and the first payday
loomed under AI Fahim's ownership. Al
Fahim was shocked that the club didn't have eent of his sharcholding was transferred picture and that was aLi they secmcd to care
the £ 1.8 million required to meet it. Storrie to AI Faraj's offshore investment vehicle, aboLlt. Storrie announccd that "the future is
was not exactly supportive and told The Falcoodrone, for a nil consideration. Al safe" and that AI Faraj "will bring financial
Guardian newspapcr: "There is no money Faraj promised AJ Fahim he would eventually stability."
left", explaining that all thc income from give him £5 million for his remaining ten Along with Jacob, AI Faraj would join
television rights and gate rcceipts had been per cent. the new Portsmouth board. Jacob told the
pledged alrcady to makc debt repayments to On Sunday 5th October, Mark Jacob media that day: "He's absolutely delighted
Standard Chartered Bank. completed the deal on behalf of hi . client, and looking forward to working with
AI Fahjm finally rcaliscd that hc was in AI Faraj, who became the third owner of the the team. He is a huge supporter of the
way over his head and told Storrie he was club in as many months. English Premiership and is delighted to get
headed for the exits once a ncw buyer could Astonishingly, AI Fahim agreed to sell involved."
be found. Storrie immediatcly phoned Mark the club for the second time for no money Meanwhile, Sir David Richards immedi
Jacob, and Jacob supposedly phoned AI up front. Al Fahim said at the time: "I've ately agreed to rubber-stamp thc Al Faraj
Faraj. Or at least he phoned someone. effectively paid £5 million for a ten per takeover. Richards could find nothing
His financial director, Holger Heims, met cent stake. If this AI Faraj guy is as big as I wrong with Ali Al Faraj and so told the
immediately with Storrie and Jacob. He am tol~ then my ten per cent will be worth club to announce that Al Faraj had already
told them that Ali Al Faraj was prepared to more than £5 million very SOOIl- so maybe passed the FPPT with the full backing of
take control of the club, to manage the debt this will turn out to be a good deal." the Premier League. Richards was only too
an(~ more importantly, to arrange to pay the They were all in dreamlan~ the lot of happy to approve a second owner just 44
salaries due in a few days. But, crucially, AI them. days after having declared that AI Fahim
Faraj would pay nothing to take control. For Storrie aod for Portsmouth fans, was a 'fit and proper' owner.
Fahjm negotiated a deal whcreby 90 per that didn't matter: Al Fahim was out of the How Al 'Faraj could have passed the ..
"J IIIe 110: BUSll1ess 45
The supporting cast ofextraordinary characters that )
Andrew Andronikou...the administrator Sir David Richards...the man in the middle Daniel Azougy...the mysterious financier
FPPT is a mystery. Until the Portsmouth include Al Faraj on its annual 'Saudi Rich Chainrai. Jacob had offered the stadium as
deal, there had never been a single mention List'. security.
of him anywhere in the media. Not one per Then, most strangely of all, it emerged Chainrai was introduced to the new own
son or company in Saudi Arabia could even that Sulaiman AI Fahim, who had sold Al ers by Yoram Yossifoff, an Israeli lawyer
verify his existence. He was supposedly a Faraj the club, hadn't met him either. Asked brought in as an advisor to Ali AI Faraj. Also
keen spol1s f~lIl and investor, but the chair by The Guardian newspaper ifhe had met brought into thc club as a consultant to run
man of the Saudi Professional League, Dr Ali AI Faraj, AI Fahim said: "I only know its finances was Daniel Azougy, an ex-Israeli
Hafez Almedlej, admitted: "I've never heard one of them." When pushed, he admitted lawyer and convicted fraudster. Azougy had
of him. I've even called up all my friends in that even that was an exaggeration: "Yeah, been found guilty in Tel Aviv in 2002 of
Saudi Arabian football and no one knows though I haven't met him, that's whatl know obstructing the course ofjustice by showing
him. It is all very strange." in the papers." Al Fahim also admitted he false documents to a judge. Seven years
Even a cursory search on Google would had not been personally involved in the later, in March 2009, he was found guilty
have revealed that his major asset, sup negotiations to sell the club: "No, no. It was by the Tel Aviv District Court of presenting
posedlya substantial stake in Sabic, the my advisers and my lawyers," he replied. Fi false documents to the Israeli Securities As
chemical company, was a myth. Sabic is nally, when asked how much he had sold his sociation regarding the sale of his stakc in a
owned by the Saudi Arabian government. Al shares for, Al Fahim admitted: "One pound public company three years earlier.
Faraj didn't own a single share and no one at would be an exaggeration." As October progressed, and with no avail
the company had evcr heard of him. There The club, meanwhile, rushed out a state- able cash flow, Jacob soon realised he had
another big problem: the October salaries.
So he went back to Chainrai for more cash,
He asked Jacob a loaded question: Had he actually ever met this time getting nearly £ 1.5 million from
the current owner of the club? "No", came the reply. Chainrai him secured against all the assets in the club
that weren't pledged to the banks.
was flabbergasted and realised he had a problem. Meanwhile, British journalists, who knew
none of this, became suspicious when Ali
were no recorded property deals recorded in ment trom Ali AI Faraj onto its websitc, AJ Faraj didn't appear at the club in person.
his name. In reality, he was the archetypal which dcclared: "Our aim is to put a stable Mark Jacob politely declined requests for
man of straw Yet he owned 100 per cent of foundation in place in all aspects of the busi interviews, saying AI Faraj would be in the
an English Prcmiership soccer club, with ness, beginning with the financial restructur UK as soon as possible and would happily
the wholehearted approval of Sir David ing of the club. Once this is in place, we can meet the media at that time. In the mean
Richards. assess our approach to building a much time, his brother, Ahmed Al Faraj, was han
A single, grainy photograph of a man said needed ncw training ground and redevelop dling his affairs. Ahmed AI Faraj, according
to be Al Faraj was issued by the club and ing Fratton Park." to the club, was a property investor based in
credited to the well-known Gctty Images li And everyone just assumed that Al Faraj the UK who also used Jacob as his lawyer.
brary. Through a spokesman, however, Getty had paid the £ 1.8 million salary bill. But Jacob, prompted media claims that AI
Images said it had no record of ever owning he hadn't even done that. As the accounts Faraj was a mysterious figure, dismissed
such a picture. would later show, Mark Jacob secured a £ 1.8 them as 'mischief-making'. He was quick to
The respected Middle Eastern busincss million loan trom a company called Portpin, explain that he and his client had saved the
weekly Arabian Business celiainly did not owned by the Nepalese businessman Balram club from extinction and should be given
rs that helped build and destroy Portsmouth Football Club
Harry Redknapp...the successful manager Balram Chainrai...the ultimate saviour Pini Zahavi...the 'Mr. Fix It' who failed to fix it
1111 as credit for that - though hc carefully failed 20th October, and by the weekend had been even this cash had now been withheld by the
to mention that AI Faraj had in fact simply widely translated and repOlted in the English Premier League because of unpaid bills.
! own borrowed money to pay the bills. media. But probably the most bizarre twist of
~er No one knew precisely what was going Jacob was stunned when he read it and all in the club's saga came in the first weck
~i·Also on and, unknown to Jacob, their carefully immediately assumed it was fabricated. ofFebruary this year. Fed up by the many
omn crafted image of everyone working for a Furious, he made his now famous calls and promises of cash on the way, Chainrai finally
:·lsraeli Saudi tycoon with deep pockets was about threats to various media organisations. The lost patience and called Jacob, once again to
gy had to be shattered. club went fi.lrther, stating on its website demand a meeting with Al Faraj.
of In mid-Octobcr, ajournaJist t1'om the that the quotes were "completely false and When he refused, Chainrai asked Jacob
lowing highly-respected Saudi newspaper Ashraq untrue. The club believes this is the work of a loaded question: whethcr he had actu
Irs Al Awsal travelled to Portsmouth, where he a third party who will face legal action." ally ever met his infamous Saudi tycoon
lilty met Ahmed AI Faraj. Ahmed AI Faraj had Hours later, the Saudi newspaper declared and current owner of the club? "No", came
'nting never before spoken to a journalist and was it had a tape of the interview. The statement the reply. Chaimai was flabbergasted and
e AS -
.e 111 a
utterly charmed and flattered by the atten
tion. The two men went for a dlive around
claiming the quotes were fake was hastily
removed from the club website, and Jacob
realised he had a problem.
On 4th February 20 I0, Chaimai in
Porl~mouth, during which time Ahmed Al began a round of humiliating phone calls to structed his legal team to seize control of
I avail Faraj was asked if he could put the joumalist the media, admitting the interview was in Ali Al Faraj's Portsmouth shareholding over
had through to his brother, Ali AI Faraj. Ahmed fact true. "There's just been a lot of confu non-payment of his loans. The mysterious
ties. immediately agrecd and dialled a mobilc sion, it's just one of those days. Let's not Saudi's 119 days as owner of a Premier
cash, number in Riyadh and put the speaker read too much into this silly incident," he League club were brought to an end.
'0111 phonc on in his car. On the other end, for the told one reporter. Jacob and all Al Faraj's advisors were
e club first time ev,er, was the voice of the man who Things at the club quickly became worse, soon booted off the dub's board before it
was the presumed new owner of the club, as the Inland Revenue filed a winding up was immediately put into administration by
knew AIiAI Faraj. order of over £3 million in unpaid taxes. The Chainrai to recover his loans.
A.li The Portsmouth owner seemed utterly salaries for both November and December Nothing has been heard of Ali Al Faraj
rson. confused. Over the next ten minutes, he were late, officially, due to "banking errors." since. But, then again, nothing had ever
for explained that he didn't actually have any Jacob and the new club board carried on been heard of bim before. •
~ the real cash, and that he knew absolutely noth going back to Chainrai for more loans, and
lily ing about soccer or, indeed, any sport. He offered anything they could get their hands
tn said the takeover of the club was entirely a on as security: the shares, the stadium and
haIl business dccision because he had been told even the club's future television income.
rding by his advisors it could make him a quick By early 20 I0, Chainrai himself started to
;ed in profit. He told the journalist: "Our plan is to become worried and demanded a meeting
~'er. stay for a period of less than six months, un with Ali Al Faraj. He was told by Mark Ja
I til the club stands again. This is based on the cob that the meeting would take place even
fd fact that purchasing thc club was purely an tually, but not just yet. Chainrai had been
'ck to investment. It's not a secret to hide: we m'e assured that he would get at least £7 million
the investors and we have no relation to sports." from the Premier League in early 20 I0 for The only known photograph of Ali AI Faraj.
en The interview was published on Tuesday its share of television revenues - only to find But is it really him? And, if not, who is it?
~11:1\I lo/.Busmess 47