The backdrop was Miami during the summer of 2013 and it could have been a sequence from the TV series Miami Vice. Except that it was a real-world example of the dark and lucrative business of buying stakes in football players, involving the game’s biggest investment fund in Europe.
The business, known as Third Party Ownership, or TPO, centred on the purchase of a player’s economic rights by individuals, companies or funds, who subsequently are entitled to a share of the player’s future club transfer fees. The system was banned by world football governing body Fifa in May 2015. TPO deals were the speciality of Doyen Sports Investment, which is registered in Malta and operates out of offices in central London.
Documents in possession of Football Leaks, obtained by German weekly par Der Spiegel and analysed by the media network European Investigative Collaborations (EIC), lift the lid on the astonishing story behind the transfer of French midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia from Sevilla to Monaco in 2013.
It features a party with prostitutes organised for the president of Real Madrid, secret commissions paid into an account in the United Arab Emirates and conflicts of interest, all in disregard for the player concerned. The transfer, which is the subject of an investigation by Fifa, illustrates the baseness of Doyen Sports and the business side of football, blighted by the feverish quest for moneymaking.
On August 6th 2013, Nelio Lucas, the chief executive of Doyen Sports, landed in Miami. He was due to watch, the following day, football matches of an exhibition tournament: the final between Réal Madrid and Chelsea, followed by the small final between A.C. Milan and LA Galaxy.
There was no particular interest in these off-season friendlies, except for the millions of dollars paid out by the tournament’s sponsor, the beer brand Guinness, to convince top clubs and their stars and managers to draw themselves into the damp and hot Florida summer.
Lucas had not made the trip to watch the teams play, but rather to earn money in the wings. Doyen Sports, which had been created barely two years earlier, had that June sealed its first major deal with the transfer of Colombian striker Radamel Falcao from Atlético Madrid to Monaco.
The cost of the transfer was 43 million Euro, and Doyen Sport owned 33 per cent of Falcao’s economic rights. In Miami, Lucas was eyeing a new moneyspinner in the form of French midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia.
The year before, Doyen Sports had provided three million Euro to Spanish club Sevilla for the purchase of Kondogbia from French side Lens. Half of the sum was handed over as a loan, while the other half was in exchange for a 50 per cent investment in the player.
After one season in Spain, and after winning the under-20 World Cup alongside team mate Paul Pogba, Kondogbia’s value had jumped. Now was the moment to strike rich on the investment with a new transfer. The problem was that Sevilla had no wish to sell the Frenchman, and Fifa rules strictly prohibited investment funds from influencing transfer deals.
But that was not enough to stop Doyen Sports. The player’s contract with Sevilla included a 20-million-Euro release clause, and the only way to overcome Sevilla’s refusal to sell Kondogbia was to find a club willing to pay the 20 million Euro. Lucas’s first target was Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, president of the most powerful club in the world. To try to seduce Perez, Lucas attempted to bring him into a specially designed private party.
Lucas had a golden opportunity to achieve his plan. The family of Kazakh oligarchs who own the Doyen Group, whose main money-spinner is raw materials, posess a 650-square-metre residence on Fisher Island, a reserve for the wealthy, lying a short distance from Miami Beach.
Nelio Lucas was present at the sprawling property when, at 5.08 p.m. on August 6th 2013 he sent a message from his mobile phone via WhatsApp to Arif Arif, the 27-year-old son of Tevfik Arif, one the four Kazakh brothers who own the Doyen Group, and who runs their Doyen Sports subsidiary alongside Lucas.
“I’m in Miami,” wrote Lucas. “Yesterday was amazing. I took few presidents out and even Florentino came with us. Very funny. He removed his tie and danced.” He added that the partying went on at the Mokai, a Miami Beach club where scantily-clad women are part of the décor.
Lucas planned on upping the tempo that evening in the Arif’s Fisher Island residence. “Bro… very important,” he wrote to Arif. “I want to bring some girls to be with us, Florentino, Galliani [editor’s note, Adriano Galliani, vice-president of A.C. Milan' and some directors. It's ok?” Lucas also asked Arif if he can trust a women whose first name is Violet for the procurement of female company. “Never met her bro,” answers Arif Arif. “Do what you have to.”
Arif Arif, 27, set out two conditions, which were “remove the pictures” and “lock the room” of his father, Tevfik, who he nick-names “Skip”. Their exchange of messages continued:
The next day Lucas texted Arif again. “Took Real Madrid directors and Florentino to the house last night,” he wrote. “Probably also today.” After the party at the Arif residence some of the entourage moved on to a club.
“Only me to take Florentino to disco club,” wrote Lucas, who sent Arif photos of the evening. “You legends !!!," replied Arif.
Nelio Lucas refused to answer our questions. Contacted by EIC, AC Minalo's Adriano Galliani and Real' Florentino Perez both firmly said that they've never set foot in the Arif family's Miami apartment.
“Not at all. I don't know Arif family,” Galliani replied.
Florentino Perez wrote in an email that he wish to express his “indignation for the content of your questions that I consider attempt seriously against my honor and reputation”.
Real Madrid's president remembers that he went to a nightclub in Miami with his friend Adriano Galliani, and the wives of the group, some of Real Madrid's executives and “other people related to the football world”.
But he says that he never went to the Arif's apartment: “I wasn't in any other place than a disco”. “From what I can remember, during that Real Madrid tour, no one tried to persuade me to buy the player Kondogbia,” he adds.
Did Nelio Lucas make a biased report of the events over the phone to impress Arif Arif? Anyway, two days later, just before leaving Miami to London, Lucas wrote another text message to Doyen Sports' co-CEO to tell him that Real Madrid refused the offer: “Real pays only 15.”
But he could console himself with the relationship he had built in Miami with Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, a powerful figure in the football business.
“My relation there is more solid than titanium,” wrote Lucas several months later. Perez, meanwhile, was cited on the Doyen Sports website extolling the “professionalism” of the company, and its “importance for Spanish football”.
While Real Madrid received no financing from Doyen Sports, “our experience with them in other subjects is immaculate” added Perez. Asked about this flattering opinion, he made the following answer to EIC: “I can't say why in its webpage is quoted a phrase like the one you mentioned, that I don't remember to have ever said.”
As Lucas was leaving Florida for the return flight to London on 9 August 2013, he sent a message to Arif, insisting “I’m killing my balls to find someone to pay the clause of Kondogbia”. At a press conference three days later, the president of Sevilla, José Maria Del Nido, apparently irritated over the media relay of rumours that the French midfielder was to be sold, made himself clear during a press conference:
“Geoffrey Kondogbia is not on the market […] He who wants him must […] pay his release clause.” Del Nido added that said he would consider any attempt to buy the player “as an aggression” and insisted he had made a deal with Doyen Sports, which owned 50% of Kondogbia, “to reject any offer made this year”.
But Lucas continued to search for a buyer ready to pay up the 20 million Euro for a 19-year-old who, however talented, was just 14 months earlier playing in France’s second division with Lens. Arif Arif envisaged a deal with Manchester United, and wrote to Lucas in a phone text message, “Surely you can force Moyes to pay?”, a reference to the club’s then manager David Moyes.
“I will try”, replied Lucas. But two days later he received a definitive no from the Red Devils. “You know how United are, they only pay premium for fat Brazilian or Portuguese retards,” Arif wrote in a text message to a friend.
In the end it was Monaco who agreed to pay the 20 million Euro for Kondogbia’s transfer to the French Riviera. “Great deal for us,” texted Lucas to Arif who replied: “Congrats bro!!!!!!!” The transfer deal, because of the company’s 50 per cent stake in Kondogbia, gave Doyen Sport a net profit of 7.8 million Euro, which represented a return on its initial investment of 524 per cent in one year.
The young French midfielder had hoped to join a major European club instead.
“I hope we didn’t ruin his career,” wrote Arif of the deal with Monaco. “My heart is broken. I have more sympathy for this kid than for Falcao,” he added, referring to the other Doyen plater, Colombian striker Radamel Falcao, who was also transferred to Monaco two months earlier.
“Look to the bank account in few days and you will feel different,” answered Lucas. “I wanted the kid to move to a solid team and deliver one of the highest of levels so we can get the recognition we deserve,” wrote Arif in a text message to a friend. “But this ended up being a pure financial play.”
But the “financial play” was no less questionable than the partying in Miami. To smooth the transfers to Monaco of Kondogbia and Falcao, Football Leaks documents suggest that Lucas paid a secret commission of 1.3 million Euro. In June 2014, one year after the transfers, Lucas used the services of a shell company, Denos limited. This offshore structure is registered in Ras al-Khaimah, one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates and the most opaque of any of the Middle East tax havens.
Doyen Sports sent to Denos 10 per cent of the profits made on transfers. Lucas would explain in one message that this arrangement was for “people we need to compensate” and that “we had no paperwork to support because the counterpart could not provide or didn't want to provide”.
In one message to the Arif family, owners of Doyen Sports, concerning a payment to be made, Nelio suggests that he promised money and that there was growing impatience among the beneficiaries: “We can't delay more. It's costing us other deals and is destroying my good name.”
On 17 July 2014, Doyen Sports made an initial payment into Denos of 1.3 million Euro, of which 785,865 Euro concerned the transfer of Kondogbia and 533,190 Euro concerned that of Falcao. The Football Leaks documents do not reveal to whom the money was ultimately destined.
Six months later, Fifa launched an investigation into Kondogbia’s transfer to Monaco. On 6 January 2015, Kimberly Morris, head of Fifa’s TMS Integrity and Compliance department wrote to Spanish club Sevilla asking for all the documents relative to the French midfielder’s transfer to Monaco, the payment details, and in particular the payments linked to Doyen Sports.
“Information available to us indicates that your club and/or a third party related to your club would have received payments in connection with this transfer,” she wrote, reminding the club that any influence by exterior parties on the independence of transfer policies is an infringement of Fifa’s rules.
Fifa also suspected that a secret payment of 500,000 Euro was made during Kondogbia’s transfer from French club Lens to Sevilla in 2012.
The investigation followed a complaint lodged with the head of Fifa’s legal affairs department in December 2014 by Italian football agent Gianluca Fiorini. The agent accused Doyen Sports of committing “grave abuse” during Kondogbia’s move to Monaco because, he argued, it controlled both the player’s agent and the agent for then Monaco manager Claudio Ranieri (who is now in charge of Leicester City).
Fiorini said he had discovered this during a conversation four months before the transfer with Spanish agent Juan Manuel Lopez who, according to the Italian, told him he was Kondogbia’s agent. Fiorini said Lopez recounted that he had “invested” in Doyen Sports, just like his Italian colleague Giuseppe Bozzo, who was Ranieri’s agent. The two agents are well connected to Doyen Sports: Lopez is one of Nelio Lucas’s three principal professional collaborators, and Bozzo has been appointed by by Nelio Lucas as the exclusive representative for Doyen Sports in Italy.
The actors of this operations that accepted to answer to EIC all denied the accusation. Kondogbia's agent, Jonathan Maarek, says that he is the sole and only one representing Kondogbia, and that Juan Manuel Lopez has never been his agent.
Maarek adds that he has never been in contact with Ranieri while he was negotiating the transfer with AS Monaco. Giuseppe Bozzo states that he has only been working for Ranieri “for a short period” in 2011, and that he was not his agent during the operation. “I have never been involved, in any way possible, to Kondgobia’s transfer to Monaco”, he adds. AS Monaco says that the club “has no information concerning alleged agreements concerning M. Bozzo”.
According to information collected by EIC, the Fifa investigation ended in the beginning of 2016, and Sevilla has been sentenced to a formal warning and a fine amouting to 55,000 swiss francs. This sanction only concerns a minor aspect of the affair: in the contract between Doyen and Sevilla was stated that the club was forced to sell Kondogbia in case there's an offer of six million Euro or more. This clause has never been used by Doyen, but it has been considered illicit by Fifa, as it gave to the fund an important influence on the club's transfer policy. Sevilla appealed the sentence.
But Fifa's investigation seem to have been incomplete. Our knowledge is that Fifa didn't ask questions to the actors of the transfer who where quoted in the complaint as having conflicts of interest.
Both Giuseppe Bozzo and AS Monaco told EIC that they didn't know about the investigation and have never been contacted by Fifa about this matter. Fifa also seems to have failed to confirm the suspicions of hidden payments that were mentioned in its letter to Sevilla.
As we've already seen earlier, the Football Leaks documents show that Doyen paid a hidden commission of 785,865 Euro related to Kondogbia's transfer. The remaining question now is who has been the beneficiary of this money that traveled through Dubai.