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Football

French, British tax officials swoop in football fraud investigation

Winston Reid celebrates after scoring West Ham's winner against Manchester United on Tuesday.
Winston Reid celebrates after scoring West Ham's winner against Manchester United on Tuesday. Reuters/John Sibley

British and French authorities kicked off a major investigation into a suspected six-million-euro tax fraud in the football industry.

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Some 180 tax officials from the two countries swooped on premises on both sides of the Channel in morning raids.

Several men were arrested and financial records seized.

West Ham United Managment confirmed that their club was targeted. Newcastle United, who this week won promotion to the Premier League, are also thought to have been targeted but did not comment.

"Investigators have searched a number of premises in the north-east and south-east of England and arrested the men and also seized business records, financial records, computers and mobile phones," a statement by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said.

It also mentioned cooperation with French authorities, who “made arrests and searched several locations in France".

The Press Association news agency reported that one of the raids was on Newcastle's St James' Park ground, with managing director Lee Charnley among those arrested.

British reports said the investigations were linked to the transfer market and several experts suggested the probes particularly concerned the issue of image rights.

In January the British parliament's Committee of Public Accounts published a report in which it said rules on image rights were being "exploited" in order to avoid taxes.

The rule allows footballers to declare income from image rights separately to their main salary.

It encourages players to maximise the proportion of income that is deemed to be for image rights in order to reduce their tax liability.

In the report, the committee said HMRC had opened enquiries about the image rights of 43 football players, eight agents and 12 clubs.

The Premier League transfer market is by some distance the largest in Europe.

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