The participation of the Cambodian diplomat’s club will be examined by the English Football League – Radio Free Asia

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The English Football League said it would investigate Birmingham City Football Club after the revelation by RFA earlier this week that Cambodian diplomat Wang Yaohui secretly controls one-eighth of the club’s shares.

Under the English Football League regulations, Birmingham City are obliged to disclose to the league and publicly the identity of anyone who directly or indirectly holds “any significant interest in the club”. Birmingham’s ownership disclosure does not name Wang, which could cause problems for the club.

Contacted on Tuesday, English Football League communications manager Billy Nickson said in an email that the league was looking into the issues raised in the FRG’s report.

“All clubs are aware of their obligations in relation to providing appropriate and necessary information in accordance with EFL regulations,” Nickson wrote. “The EFL will take up the matter with the club.”

The EFL Championship is the second highest division in English football.

Born in China in 1966, Wang Yaohui is a naturalized Cambodian citizen and Minister Counselor at the Cambodian Embassy in Singapore. He has extensive business ties with one of Cambodia’s most powerful families, led by the ruling party, Senator Lau Ming Kan and his wife Choeung Sopheap. The couple are allies of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Wang’s stake in the football club is held through a Hong Kong-listed company called Birmingham Sports Holdings Limited, which owns 75% of the club. In December 2017, Wang acquired 8.52% of Birmingham Sports Holdings through a British Virgin Islands company called Dragon Villa Ltd. In the years that followed, Hong Kong Stock Exchange deposits show that he increased his stake to 17.08%, giving him a 12.8% stake in the club itself.

In its own disclosure statement, Birmingham City identifies Dragon Villa as owned by a Chinese citizen named Lei Sutong. However, documents seen by RFA suggest that he is the owner in name only.

Trade secrecy laws in the British Virgin Islands make it virtually impossible for members of the public to determine who the true owner of Dragon Villa is. However, documents filed with the Singapore High Court reveal that it is in fact Wang.

Gold Star Aviation Pte Ltd is a wholly owned subsidiary of Dragon Villa involved in owning and operating private jets. He is currently a defendant in a civil action in Singapore. Among his co-defendants is a Taiwanese-American named Jenny Shao, who Wang has granted power of attorney over her affairs since at least 2009.

In a sworn affidavit submitted by Shao’s lawyers on her behalf and dated October 2020, she describes herself as the “authorized signing officer” of Dragon Villa. She adds that Dragon Villa “is the beneficial property of Mr. Wang.” A beneficial owner is someone who enjoys the benefits of owning a business, even if it is held in someone else’s name.

Former associates of Wang, who asked not to be identified for security reasons, confirmed to RFA that Wang was the beneficial owner of Dragon Villa. The statement is also echoed in other affidavits filed in the Singapore court case. Records also show that Dragon Villa was involved in the ownership networks of several other companies linked to Wang..

If the EFL finds the club breached regulations by failing to disclose Wang’s control of Dragon Villa – and therefore 12.8 per cent of the club – then Birmingham City could face league sanctions.

Wang Yaohui’s first Cambodian diplomatic passport bearing his Khmer name Wan Sokha. The passport was granted to him in 2015 in recognition of his role as an adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Absent owners

Birmingham City fan Daniel Ivery has been concerned for years about Wang’s possible association with the club. He wrote on his blog Almajir Tuesday that he had “repeatedly attempted to raise this issue of Wang Yaohui with the EFL since December 2017”.

Each time he raised the issue, he wrote, the league refused “even to acknowledge that there might be a problem.”

While it looks like the league is now taking notice, it remains to be seen what, if anything, they will do about it.

Ivery isn’t the only one to have raised the alarm over Birmingham City property. Member of local parliament Shabana Mahmood wrote to the British Minister for Sport in January to denounce “the financial and professional mismanagement of absentee owners” at the club.

For its part, Birmingham City has so far remained silent. The club first acknowledged RFA’s demands on Wednesday when media officer Dale Moon promised to raise the issue with the club’s board and senior management – although he did not expect that that a statement be published.

“In all honesty,” Moon wrote, “given their historic position on the property, I don’t expect them to want to comment.”

As of press time, no statement has been released by the club.

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