French authorities say transfers investigated as HMRC suspect ‘hidden payments’ to players after Newcastle United raided

Lee Charnley

Lee Charnley

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A statement by France’s National Financial Office has claimed that ‘hidden payments’ to players and agents are being investigated as part of the suspected tax fraud which saw Newcastle United raided and managing director Lee Charnley arrested.

An Anglo-French investigation into suspected tax fraud in football has seen several men arrested in dawn raids at Newcastle, West Ham and France.

Officers from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) also visited Premier League leaders Chelsea on Wednesday morning but no items were seized or arrests made.

And according to local reports, French officials have arrested four football agents, with Marseille’s transfer dealings understood to be under investigation.

Newcastle’s managing director Charnley is so far the only confirmed arrest but Press Association Sport understands he has already been released without charge. It also believed there were no arrests made at West Ham.

The dramatic series of events, which appear to have taken everybody by surprise, started with reports of police raids at Newcastle’s St James’ Park and training ground and West Ham’s London Stadium.

Soon after, a spokesperson for HMRC confirmed that its officers, not police, had “arrested several men working within the professional football industry for a suspected £5million income tax and National Insurance fraud”.

The co-ordinated raids, across the UK and France, involved 180 officers, with investigators searching premises in the north east and south east of England and seizing computers, mobile phones and paperwork.

The spokesperson continued: “The French authorities are assisting the UK investigation, have made arrests and several locations have been searched in France.

“This criminal investigation sends a clear message that, whoever you are, if you commit tax fraud you can expect to face the consequences.”

France’s National Financial Office released a statement on Wednesday night, confirming reports of arrests in the country.

It read: “On April 26, 2017 a number of arrests and searches were carried out in France in connection with the execution by the national financial prosecutor (PNF) of a request on July 29, 2016 for mutual assistance from the British judicial authorities.

“Ten searches were carried out all over France and four people were held in custody. Documents were also seized.

“The investigation is being conducted by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC). It deals with cases of aggravated tax evasion and the laundering of aggravated tax fraud committed during several transfers of football players between French clubs and clubs playing in the Premier League. The UK authorities suspect hidden payments to certain players, their agents or third parties, allowing them to evade income taxes and social security contributions.

“This judicial operation to combat tax fraud, carried out jointly by the French and British authorities and supervised by two PNF magistrates, took several months to prepare and mobilised 32 investigators.”