Sunday 22 Dec 2013
The Serious Fraud Office is probing an elaborate scam that took in the former England football manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, the former spymaster Sir John Walker and the North Korean government, BBC Panorama has learned.
Investigators are also looking at how the same con man took control of almost half a London investment bank without paying a penny for the shares. First London PLC, whose advisers included Tim Yeo MP and Air Marshal Sir John Walker, subsequently went into administration last year with debts of £8.7m.
Panorama – The Trillion Dollar Con Man (Monday 18 April, BBC One 8.30pm) has discovered that Russell King, a convicted fraudster, obtained 49 per cent of First London's shares in 2008 by falsely claiming he was managing billions of dollars for the Bahraini royal family.
The case has recently been referred to the Serious Fraud Office by the Financial Services Authority (FSA), which was concerned about the unauthorised transfer of shares.
"In this case the acquisition of control occurred without the FSA having been given the prior notice which the law requires it to be given," an FSA spokesman told Panorama.
"Had it been given proper notice it would have been in a position to consider whether it should use its powers to object to and prohibit the change of control.
"The FSA subsequently identified a number of concerns and pursued a series of leads into what was an extremely complex corporate structure. It would be inappropriate for us to comment further at this time due to confidentiality issues."
Tonight's Panorama programme also shows how King used the name of the bank and its high-profile advisers to give credibility to his fraudulent deals.
They included an audacious attempt to obtain funding for a new company that claimed to have assets worth $2 trillion and the short-lived takeover of the Football League's oldest club.
In 2009, King was behind a controversial takeover of Notts County which promised to bring millions of pounds of investment from the Middle East.
The investment, which appeared to have been guaranteed by First London, never materialised and the club was left £7m in the red – but not before Sven-Goran Eriksson agreed to join County as director of football.
The coach's contract included a clause entitling him to 11 million Euros worth of shares in a little known company called Swiss Commodity Holding (SCH).
SCH, which had only been set up a few months earlier, claimed to have assets worth $2 trillion because it had obtained the exclusive rights to all of North Korea's gold, coal and iron ore.
King persuaded the former England manager to visit the rogue state as part of an SCH delegation and Mr Eriksson was present at a meeting with the North Korean leadership.
"I was in the palace and they were handing over to the North Korean government so-called shares," Eriksson tells Panorama.
"I asked them how much that was because at the same time we couldn't pay the milk bill at Notts County and what they told me was not millions, it was billions of dollars. They used my name. Of course they did. At the end it became a big, big mistake."
Panorama's investigation shows that King was secretly running SCH, which was considering a public listing.
Documents detailing the company's claims were prepared by First London PLC. The investment bank also sent Sir John Walker, a former head of defence intelligence, to check out King and his associates.
The Air Marshal tells the programme: "What do I think of Russell King? Not a lot. He was good at chat, but that was his business. He was a con man. I was taken the same way Sven was taken. They just wanted names".
King had convinced First London he was managing billions of dollars of Bahraini cash after he introduced some of its bankers to senior members of the royal family.
But Fawaz Al Khalifa, President of the Bahraini Information Affairs Authority, says that King was lying about his royal connections: "He might have met members of the family here or there, but we have no financial connection to him or his company."
King, who was jailed for insurance fraud in 1991, denies any involvement in the running of Notts County, SCH or First London PLC.
But Panorama has obtained dozens of emails and numerous testimonies showing he was secretly pulling the strings. At Notts County, King even referred to himself as Lord Voldemort, the character from the Harry Potter books who can never be named.
The club had been owned by a supporters' trust, but King persuaded the fans to sell it for just £1 after they met one of his supposedly wealthy benefactors in Bahrain.
Abid Hyat Khan was introduced as a Middle Eastern prince, but Panorama has discovered that he is actually on the run from British police.
The "fake sheikh" absconded from the UK in 2008, when he was due to stand trial for allegedly stealing almost £1m.
Despite being a wanted fraudster, Khan was approved by the Football League as a fit and proper person to run Notts County.
Former Football League chairman Lord Mawhinney denied the league had been negligent over the takeover: "What the League did was rigorously apply the rules and regulations that existed at the time."
He said the Football League had tightened up its ownership rules as a result of the problems at Notts County.
In a separate inquiry, Nottingham police are now investigating the takeover to see if the football club was obtained by deception.
The police were called in by current Notts County chairman, Ray Trew. He is convinced that crimes have been committed at Meadow Lane: "The inquiries are on-going and I am hopeful a prosecution will come out of this," he told Panorama.
First London's parent company, First London Group PLC, is still in business. In a statement, its lawyers said the failure to notify the FSA about the change in ownership was a mistake that had been rectified:
"This was simply an error and not done for any ulterior or questionable motive. As far as our client is aware the FSA were satisfied that the information provided was in compliance with all legal and regulatory requirements.
"Our client is unaware of any investigation by the FSA or SFO into its activities so far as they relate to or involve Russell King."
Panorama – The Trillion Dollar Con Man is on BBC One on Monday 18 April at 8.30pm.