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Birmingham City owner arrested on money laundering charges

By Paul Armstrong, CNN
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Birmingham City club owner arrested
  • Businessman and football club owner Carson Yeung arrested at Hong Kong home
  • Police: Charges related to property "known or believed to represent proceeds of an indictable offence"
  • Birmingham City issue statement to allay fans' fears that events affect the club's operations

Hong Kong (CNN) -- Hong Kong tycoon Carson Yeung, the owner of relegated English Premier League football club Birmingham City, was arrested and charged with money laundering Thursday.

A Hong Kong police spokesman confirmed that a 51-year-old man had been arrested and charged with five counts of "dealing with property known or believed to represent proceeds of an indictable offence" and was detained in police custody. He was later granted bail, the registrar of the Hong Kong High Court said, with the trial scheduled to resume on August 11.

While Yeung was not asked to plead to the charges, he was required to surrender his passport and must report regularly to Hong Kong police, according to his lawyer Daniel Marash.

According to court documents, the total sums involved amount to an estimated $92.47 million.

The news will compound what has been a disastrous few months for the football club, which faces the prospect of a significant drop in revenue after its relegation from the lucrative Premiership.

News of the arrest prompted Birmingham's board to allay fans' fears that events would affect the club's operations.

Who is Carson Yeung? Video

A statement on the club's website from acting chairman Peter Pannu -- who is also chairman of Yeung-owned parent company Birmingham International Holdings Ltd. (BIHL) -- said Yeung was assisting police in relation to certain criminal investigations.

The law says a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
--Acting Birmingham Chairman Pater Pannu

"I have just had a call from the Birmingham International Holdings lawyers informing me of the position in Hong Kong and I have also been informed by them that Carson is assisting with inquiries that have nothing to do with the operation of BIHL in Hong Kong and therefore nothing to do with the operation of the club, and relate to other matters.

"The law says a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty."

Yeung, a former hair-stylist who reputedly made his fortune investing in penny stocks in Macau, took control of Birmingham City in 2009 after failing with a previous attempt to buy the club. He eventually secured a 23.3% controlling stake, promising to raise the club's global profile, particularly in China.

However the club had a roller-coaster season on the field this year. In February, they won their first trophy since 1963 when they beat Premier League giants Arsenal 2-1 in the League Cup final at Wembley.

But barely three months later, they experienced the ignominy of relegation to the Championship on the final day of the league season. Weeks later the manager of the club, Alex McLeish, resigned from his post and joined bitter city rivals Aston Villa.

Off the field, the demotion will cost the club -- already believed to be carrying a significant debt -- tens of millions of dollars in lost television revenue from British-based broadcaster Sky Sports, reduced sponsorship and a drop in ticket sales.

The level of Yeung's involvement in the club -- as well as the source of his financial backing -- has also been the subject of much debate in the British media.

Last season auditors posted warnings about the club's ability to continue in business. It later emerged that Yeung was preparing to mortgage his private properties in a cash-raising exercise to help keep the club solvent, the Guardian reported.

In April last year Yeung was also involved in an embarrassing dispute with investment bank Seymour Pierce, which claimed it was owed $3.5 million in fees relating to its part in the takeover of the club.

At one point the bank threatened to sell off Birmingham City to recover the debt, the BBC reported. A British court eventually ordered Yeung to settle.

Meanwhile, shares of BIHL were suspended on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange "pending a statement."

CNN's Pamela Boykoff contributed to this report