At home to Barnsley on April 9 Cardiff City picked up the point that would ultimately guarantee their promotion to the Premier League. But Mehmet Dalman could have been forgiven for sitting out the celebrations with his fellow board members in the Cardiff directors’ box.
Because 125 miles away in London David Green QC, the director of the Serious Fraud Office [SFO], was considering whether allegations over bribery and corruption at Eurasian Natural Resources Corp [ENRC] justified a formal criminal investigation. Within a fortnight, Dalman would resign from the chairmanship he had held for the past 14 months at ENRC, having previously been senior independent director at the Kazakhstan-based miner.
Dalman has not publicly been accused of wrongdoing and ENRC said it “refutes any allegations of bribery and corruption”. But as scandal engulfs the FTSE100-listed firm – and threatens to undermine the reputation of the City of London – his appointment on Monday as chairman of Cardiff City has appeared curious at best.
Certainly Dalman’s judgement can be called into question. He has served on ENRC’s board since its listing in 2007 – its share price having at one point lost three-quarters of its value – yet the firm has for two years had to contend with speculation about SFO scrutiny of its activities, consistently denying it.
Now, inevitably, there have been calls for explanation of the implications for the football authorities’ so-called fit-and-proper-persons test, today known as the “Owners and Directors Test”. But, although he now retains no other UK directorship beyond that at Cardiff, football cannot exclude individuals from boardroom positions on the basis of suspicion and innuendo alone.
To be legally watertight the rules must be as specific as they are prescriptive. So they are, preventing individuals taking up club directorships if they have unspent convictions for “dishonesty” offences, or have been disqualified from a professional association such as the Law Society or the Institute for Chartered Accountants.
None of this applies for Dalman yet, and it may never. Football would be leaving itself open to litigation if it acted precipitately and, ENRC aside, reports on Dalman’s background detail an impressive CV. He is said to have served Deloitte in Switzerland for 30 years, rising to the position of chairman and chief executive, as part of an eventful career.
He reportedly also once had a trial with Crystal Palace. Dalman has a reputation for being a charismatic individual who is always impeccably turned out, and football will now see more of him as he is set to take a more active role in the club, where the Acting Chairman, Simon Lim, will take over as chief executive.
No doubt he is already very familiar with Wales’s second Premier League side but it is worth highlighting what he is getting in to here. For Cardiff are certainly a colourful outfit, and not merely in terms of having controversially changed their strip from blue to red. (Fans used to exhorting their club with its nickname, “Bluebirds”, did not at first take kindly to the move.)
This is a club where Sam Hammam once was chairman, a man who would famously demand players eat sheep’s testicles upon signing. It is a club that, up to its eyeballs in debt to the faceless, Panama-registered Langston Corporation, agreed to a mortgage document with an offshore company with links to the then Coventry City chairman, Ray Ranson. The agreement would permit that company the power of veto over Cardiff’s transfer activity [http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2011/mar/02/football-league-cardiff-city-mortgage], a preposterous conflict of interest for Ranson, who resigned his role at Coventry within a month of my report being published [http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2011/mar/31/ray-ranson-cardiff-city].
It was the club whose “golden ticket” scheme would see the former chairman Peter Ridsdale appear in court, charged with unfair trading and fraud by Cardiff Council’s trading-standards department [http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2011/may/06/peter-ridsdale-faces-charges]. (The charges were later dropped.)
Indeed, this is not even the first time Cardiff has been hit with controversy surrounding an SFO investigation into allegations of fraud involving mines. Alan Whiteley, a former Cardiff chief executive, appeared in court earlier this year in connection with another matter that was entirely unrelated to ENRC’s. Whiteley resigned from Cardiff’s board in January after being charged [http://www.sfo.gov.uk/press-room/latest-press-releases/press-releases-2013/south-wales-coal-mines-fraud-prosecution-six-at-court.aspx] with conspiracy to defraud.
As that long and intriguing list of events suggests, Cardiff City is a you-couldn’t-make-it-up kinda place. As the ENRC fallout continues, you get the sense Dalman will fit right in.