Newcastle’s €18.5m Mitrovic buy sparks Belgian police raids and money laundering probe

By Samindra Kunti

April 25 – Belgian football was rocked again on Wednesday as Belgian police raided the offices of Anderlecht and the Belgian Football Association (KBVB) as part of an investigation into money-laundering. The 2015 transfer of Serbian player Aleksandar Mitrovic from Anderlecht to Newcastle United is reportedly under investigation with player agent Pini Zahavi emergent as a key figure.

Earlier on Wednesday Belgian police searched the premises of Anderlecht’s administration in Neerpede. Anderlecht tweeted that the club “has naturally fully cooperated with the investigators.” At the same authorities also searched the offices of the KBVB, who communicated via a spokesman that the police had taken away transfer documents from its headquarters.

Player agency One Goal Management was also targeted by investigators but they have immediately denied any involvement in the Mitrovic transfer.

“We never spoke to the player in question, we don’t know him,” said Grégory Ngunga of One Goal Management to local media. “So we are not involved in this file at all. This naturally causes our company damage. We are not concerned with this type of transfer. It is a big misunderstanding. It goes without saying that I consulted a lawyer today, but I am not considering any further steps for the time being.”

A spokesman for the federal prosecutor said: “We had some questions for the agents who took care of the transfers. It is a question of money laundering.”

The new raids and investigations have not been linked to the wide-ranging investigation into financial fraud and match-fixing that shook Belgian football to the core last year.

On October 10, police swooped on Belgian football in operation ‘Propere Handen’. They carried out searches at Anderlecht, Club Brugge, KV Oostende and Lokeren. Former Anderlecht-manager Herman Van Holsbeeck and football agent Mogi Bayat were detained for questioning. Van Holsbeeck was immediately released, Bayat was released on bail after a month and a half under strict conditions.

The prosecutor declined to reveal if anyone involved in ‘Propere Handen’ is under suspicion in the new investigation, but Pini Zahavi, the influential Israeli super agent, is emerging as a key figure with the investigation focusing on Mitrovic’s €18.5 million move to Newcastle United in 2015. Investigators suspect that the was part of a money-laundering scheme and are trying to track its final destination.

That summer the Serbian striker moved to Tyneside after scoring 20 goals in the Belgian league in a transfer brokered by Zahavi and his right-hand man Fali Ramadani, alienating Mitrovic’s own agent Nenad Jestrovic. The duo also set up Newcastle with Anderlecht defender Chancel Mbemba for about €12 million. Anderlecht banked €27 million for the two transfers, the rest of money was paid as commissions for the agents and various intermediaries.

It is not the first time Zahavi has raised the interest of law enforcement in Belgium. The agent and Ramadani are also subject to an investigation into the ownership structure at Belgian club Mouscron, and how it obtained its league license to remain in the topflight. Mouscron has been investigated for potential fraud involving forged documents, money laundering, and illicit funding from offshore companies managed by Zahavi.

In 2015 Zahavi acquired Mouscron, but exited a year later as new Belgian rules prohibited an agent from owning a club. However, behind the scenes Zahavi kept wielding his influence over the club, revealed by the Football Leaks documents obtained by German media outlet Der Spiegel.

Insideworldfootball could not reach Zahavi for comment.

Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1566465491labto1566465491ofdlr1566465491owedi1566465491sni@o1566465491fni1566465491