Whilst Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, who owns French Top League team AS Monaco is perhaps not as well-known as Jorge Mendes, the notorious football agent, both have been in business together at a secret level, as information from Football Leaks has revealed. Both men carry a bad reputation. To start with: Mr Mendes is perceived as an all-too powerful man who easily dictates his terms to clubs and holds an extreme influence on the market. He is also seen as an overconfident, if not cocky man with clanic reflexes and a tendency to hold clubs hostages of his power. He is essentially a man who could hold anyone in football at gunpoint with a mobile phone and a cheeky smile.
Mr Rybolovlev, on the other hand, is somewhat scarier, even though he doesn’t hold the same influence in football spheres. A one-time prison convict in Russia (held on the charge of having ordered the contract killing of a business associate) he has also been heavily suspected of having taken part in unorthodox financial operations in Russia, and of all sorts of crooked financial offshore operations. Not to mention his role in one of the hugest environmental catastrophes in Russian history, when the mines he owned in Central Russia collapsed in 2006 and 2007. The two men may have different backgrounds, but they do have one thing in common: a taste for money.
In an article dated from December, 21st, French online investigation magazine Mediapart revealed that both men had engaged in business deals via companies which allowed them to set up ‘Third-Party Ownership’ transactions, by which they bought and sold shares in… players. TPO, as it is referred to, allows financial entities to trade these shares at will, without other parties being informed (or used to allow this: the practice was banned by FIFA in May 2015). Typically, a player’s value could be artificially changed by third parties without the club which owned the player necessarily knowing about the various transactions. In the case of AS Monaco, this led to players’ values being manipulated.
Besides this debatable practice, which although legal for a time, was a dishonest tactic typical of the financial world, there appeared to have been repeated conflicts of interest. Gestifute, Jorge Mendes’ holding, contracted with another holding called Browsefish for players who played for AS Monaco – only Browsefish was in fact a pawn for Rigmora, another holding… which was none other than Dmitry Rybolovlev’s family office holding! In other words, the President of AS Monaco was taking part in Jorge Mendes’ schemes, and in one clear case, manipulating the price of one of his players (a Brazilian player named Fabinho)… and plausibly using this scheme to offer undue commission fees.
It isn’t a scandal the size of the Panama Papers, but it bears striking resemblance to white-collar ill dealings of the past few years: two unsavoury characters teaming up to influence the market and satisfy their sense of greed. And let’s not forget one of the two is football’s most controversial agent, and the other is one of the world’s most controversial businessmen. What a coincidence.