Football's Mr Fix-It caught in sting to sell cash-strapped Derby

Football’s ‘Mr Fix-It’ Christopher Samuelson is caught in an Al Jazeera sting promising to sell troubled Derby to a convicted criminal by bypassing the EFL’s fit and proper person test… in exchange for a fee of nearly £3m and club director role

  • Christopher Samuelson is at the centre of a damning Al Jazeera investigation 
  • Nicknamed ‘The Magician’, Samuelson was attempting to help two undercover reporters with the purchase of Championship team Derby County 
  • The reporters were in dialogue on behalf of Mr X, who they say they told Samuelson had criminal convictions, something his lawyer has since denied
  • Samuelson is alleged to have offered to help circumnavigate the Football League’s Fit and Proper Persons test for any takeover deals 

A damning investigation by Al Jazeera has accused football middleman Christopher Samuelson of offering to use offshore bank accounts to help an investor with criminal convictions buy second-division Derby County.

Samuelson, who is nicknamed ‘The Magician’, is a trust fund manager that has played key roles in takeover deals at Aston Villa and Reading previously.

Undercover reporters met with Samuelson on behalf of an investor they referred to as ‘Mr X’ and they were walked through how he could help their ‘boss’ in getting around the English Football League’s Fit and Proper Persons’ test for takeover deals.

Christopher Samuelson has been accused of offering to use offshore bank accounts to help an investor with criminal convictions buy Championship outfit Derby County

Samuelson is a trust fund manager that has played key roles in takeover deals at Aston Villa and Reading previously

The EFL’s owners and directors’ test dictates that anyone with an unspent criminal conviction which holds a custodial sentence of more than 12 months is banned from purchasing a club. 

Samuelson, who was covertly filmed by the broadcaster’s two reporters, is seen on camera saying that he can help move assets to ‘secure locations’ and his close relationships with banks in Liechtenstein can help conceal both identity and assets.

Mr X, the fictitious investor from China who, it was said to Samuelson, has been convicted for bribery and money laundering, was looking into a deal to buy Derby County. 

Samuelson, who gained prominence in the 1990s as he built one of the biggest offshore trust companies in the world in Valmet, valued the total takeover deal at £99million.

Derby owner Mel Morris was introduced to the two reporters working on behalf of the fictitious Mr X but there is no footage to show Morris or Derby being made aware of any criminal convictions held by the fake Chinese investor.

A proposed takeover of Derby County has been at the centre of a new Al Jazeera investigation

Concerned that Mr X would fall foul of the Fit and Proper Persons’ Test, the undercover reporters sought clarity on just how Samuelson would be able to ensure a smooth takeover process.

‘We create the bio,’ he told them. ‘We’ll say his business was real estate investment, and other sectors… We’ll just manufacture it.

‘I’m an expert. When I did the Aston Villa application, I wrote the whole thing myself and I took the information I needed and left the rest out.’

He added: ‘I’ll hold a gun to their head. I can pressure the Football League… it will be approved. And if we have to threaten them with legal action – watch them fall over.’

Samuelson was born to a well-off family in 1946, and attended Sherborne, the private boarding school situated in Dorset. 

His rise in the 90s saw him gain some of the richest people in the world as clients. Russian oligarchs and Middle Eastern sheiks are both reported to have had business dealings with him.

As part of the discussions Al Jazeera learned that Samuelson’s fee for the entire process was three per cent of the sale price, plus a club director role for himself.

Derby were left disappointed back in May when the proposed takeover of the club by Spanish boxing promoter Erik Alonso failed.

Alonso agreed a deal to buy the Rams’ with owner Morris in April, with the club insisting it had seen proof of funds.

However, as revealed by Sportsmail, Morris was forced to finally accept defeat in this latest attempt to sell the club to Alonso’s No Limits Sports and an EFL source confirmed it was ‘dead in the water’.

Two undercover reporters working for the broadcaster were looking to buy the club on behalf of Mr X, a fictitious Chinese businessman, and middleman Christopher Samuelson helped them secure a meeting with Derby County owner Mel Morris about a potential takeover

One of his most prominent roles as a middleman saw him help broker the deal for Tony Xia to purchase Aston Villa in 2016.

Samuelson is said to have arranged for the Chinese businessman to buy Villa for a reported $105m (£75m). As part of that deal he was to take on the role as deputy chairman.

But financial issues plagued Xia and by 2018 the Midlands club was mired in financial crisis. Now owned by  the NSWE group, an Egyptian company owned by billionaires Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens, Villa is thriving.

Xia was sued for allegedly defaulting on loans back in China which are believed to be worth tens of millions of dollars. The businessman is currently in jail in China pending a police investigation. He denies all charges.

The covert investigation into talks over the sale of Derby County also saw the emergence of a secret Dutch police report from 2005 which included allegations levelled against Samuelson. 

In the report, Samuelson is described as the ‘de facto leader of an international money laundering operation’. 

Samuelson previously helped Tony Xia buy Aston Villa in 2016 before financial concerns saw him sell in 2018. Xia is currently in jail in China pending a police investigation. He denies all charges against him

The undercover reporters allege that they stressed to Samuelson the need to conceal the identity of Mr X from everyone, including the EFL.

Samuelson is said to have claimed he had used offshore trusts to deceive the Football League previously, citing the time he helped arrange the sale of a majority stake in Reading FC back in 2012. 

In response to the investigation, Samuelson’s lawyers told Al Jazeera that he had never been told that Mr X had a criminal conviction for money laundering and bribery. 

They added that had Samuelson known of any criminality on the part of Mr X, he would have ended discussions over the Derby sale immediately.

Derby, in their own statement to Al Jazeera, said the club would only be sold to ‘appropriate custodians’ and that they have not had any ‘formal association’ with Samuelson for some time. 

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