Watford Faces Soccer League Probe Amid Financial Fraud Claims

  • English club starts internal probe after newspaper revelations
  • Newspaper publishes fake document related to 2014 takeover

Premier League team Watford is under investigation for allegedly providing English soccer authorities with a fraudulent banking document during the 2014 takeover by new owner Gino Pozzo.

The team, which was then in the Championship, gave the English Football League a false proof of funds letter when Pozzo took control of the Hornets from his father Giampaolo, the Daily Telegraph newspaper reported Tuesday.

“The club takes this matter extremely seriously and has instructed independent solicitors to carry out an investigation into relevant matters,” the team said in a statement on its website.

The report will be provided to the English Football League, the group responsible for the three professional divisions below the Premier League. The league said it immediately started disciplinary procedures into the "serious allegations."

Playing in the Premier League looked unlikely when the Pozzo family took control of the then-struggling club in 2012. Using players from their two other teams -- Spain’s Granada and Udinese in Italy -- the family helped Watford gain promotion to the Premier League in 2015. The league is starting its richest television deal this season, guaranteeing the last-place club about 100 million pounds ($122 million).

Watford said its owner has invested 20 million pounds since the 2014 document showing proof of 7 million pounds in funds was provided to the authorities. In a separate case, a Chinese investor group seeking funds to buy Italy’s AC Milan provided false bank records in their initial deal negotiations.

The investigation comes with Watford in ninth place after nine matches in England’s top league. Watford in September beat Manchester United for the first time in 30 years. Lawyers said the discovery of the document may lead to a criminal investigation beyond a fine or points penalty Watford may face from soccer authorities. The document is typically used to prove buyers have the funds to complete a transaction.

“This seems to be more than financial irregularities with evidence suggesting that a fraud has taken place," said Kyle Phillips, an attorney with Howard Kennedy. "The ongoing investigation could result in Watford self-reporting to the authorities if an investigation unearths evidence of a criminal offence.”

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