Fulham: Van der Sar, dodgy transfer?
Former Fulham goalkeeper Edwin Van der Sar is the latest Premiership star whose transfer is to be dragged into the ongoing inquiries into possible illegal payments in football, as the net closes on the Premiership from a range of international investigations.
In the wake of Lord Stevens's announcement last week that 39 transfers are being investigated for possible irregularities by the Premier League's own inquiry into corrupt payments, at least three judicial probes across Europe are targeting English clubs for details of transfers.
And the Italian fraud squad, responsible for the inquiries that saw Juventus relegated to Serie B this season, are turning their attention to Premiership clubs as they investigate transfers between English and Italian clubs.
Italian prosecutor Stefano Palazzi has asked to see Van der Sar about what he knows of events surrounding his 2001 transfer from Juventus to Fulham. Although the Holland star is cooperating, His current club Manchester United's fixture schedule has so far prevented him from flying to Turin for the interview.
There is no suggestion that Van der Sar is involved in Italian match-fixing inquiries or that he benefited illegally from his £7.5 million deal.
However, investigators are making wide-ranging inquiries into Juventus's transfer dealings to see if illegal payments were made to club staff.
Van der Sar's agent, Rob Jansen, said last night that he was not aware that the goalkeeper was required in Turin. Jansen said: 'The Italian prosecutors have interviewed everyone involved in a transfer with Juventus. That's natural - it's part of their investigation. Edwin has already spoken to them by telephone.'
Lawyers for Fulham owner Mohamed al Fayed have held several meetings with Palazzi and, at the prosecutor's request, have passed a dossier of evidence to him. These investigations coincide with two major judicial inquiries in France into corruption in football, both of which also feature the transfers of current United stars.
The Paris-based probe into Paris Saint-Germain transfers from 1998 to 2005 has looked at the £6.9m deal which took Gabriel Heinze to Old Trafford in 2004, while Marseille authorities are focusing on deals involving unlicensed agent Richard Bettoni, who helped take Louis Saha to Fulham in 2000 and then move him on to Old Trafford four years later.
There is no suggestion in either case that the players, or United/Fulham, have done anything wrong but the French investigations have shed light on a network of agents and middlemen which stretches across the Channel and the world.
In March last year, judges leading the Paris inquiry ordered police to raid the houses or offices of eight agents, licensed or otherwise. The following October, eight clubs were targeted by the Marseille authorities for similar treatment.
The bank accounts and other records recovered have already shown how Bettoni's company, ProRB, received hundreds of thousands of pounds from a firm called Pro Agency, which is run by Ranko Stojic, a FIFA-licensed agent from Serbia. Both men have been formally questioned by the Paris judges and Stojic has publicly admitted paying Bettoni for his assistance in a number of deals.
It is also understood that The Mail On Sunday's revelation that Didier Drogba's £24m move to Chelsea forms part of a new probe also based in Marseille has prompted Quest to make further inquiries with those involved.
Meanwhile, FIFA's executive committee will receive recommendations on cleaning up the game's finances and increasing the transparency of the transfer market at their meeting in December.
Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore has assisted FIFA's working group for financial matters, chaired by Dutch FA president Dr Mathieu Sprengers, who will present their proposals at the meeting. They are likely to call for clubs to be compelled to reveal bank account details, in a bid to prevent money-laundering and bungs, as well as tightening up regulations governing agents.
Sprengers will speak to Scudamore and take his advice following the Stevens inquiry, which will report just before the FIFA meeting and could provide valuable insights into how to police the game in future.
Although the Van der Sar transfer in 2001 is well outside the time-frame of Stevens's inquiry, which concerns the two years from January 2004, it is indicative of the growing external pressure for reform from judicial and government authorities.
Italian investigators are also looking at the transfers of several other players from Serie A clubs to the Premier League in recent seasons.
In addition to United, they are expected to speak to players from at least two other Premiership clubs in the next few months. Central to Palazzi's inquiries is the relationship between Juventus vice-president Roberto Bettega and former France World Cup star Jean Tigana, who was Fulham manager at the time.
According to evidence given in the High Court two years ago when Tigana won a breach-of-contract action against Fulham, his deputy, Christian Damiano, who knew Bettega, had introduced the two men.
Fulham chairman Fayed claimed in court that the fee was deliberately increased so the extra amount could be divided among some of the parties to the deal. However, the Judge dismissed the claims and ruled in Tigana's favour.
The former Craven Cottage boss is also linked to the two French inquiries. Tigana originally represented Saha but had to give up his agent's licence to become Fulham manager in 2000, handing over his business to long-time associate Bettoni. Soon afterwards, Saha joined Fulham, with Stojic and Bettoni conducting the negotiations.