Former Chelsea player Rati Aleksidze arrested in Germany for ‘gang-related investment fraud’

Rati Aleksidze playing for Chelsea
Rati Aleksidze played three times for Chelsea under under Claudio Ranieri

A former Chelsea striker played a possible minor role in a global investment crime gang, according to prosecutors investigating a cyber scam worth “billions”.

Rati Aleksidze, part of a squad featuring Gianfranco Zola, Marcel Desailly and John Terry at Stamford Bridge, was temporarily held under a European arrest warrant in March.

The ex-Georgia international, 45, was immediately extradited from Lithuania to Germany, but has since had his arrest warrant lifted, although inquiries continue.

German prosecutors told Telegraph Sport he is suspected of playing “at most” a minor role in the Tbilisi-based conspiracy accused of defrauding hundreds of thousands of investors.

Officers believe fraudulent investment websites and cryptocurrency platforms being run by the gang have run up “damages in the billions”, according to German reports.

Victims worldwide are often targeted on the phone, with callers often introducing themselves with accent-free English offering deals in cryptocurrency or other investments.

The BBC, which accompanied German and Georgian police on call-centre raids in the Georgian capital, tracked down several English investors who were ripped off. City of London police are among forces which have taken statements.

However, it has only emerged in Germany this week that Aleksidze, who played twice in the Premier League in 2000-01 before his contract was terminated after he suffered a back injury, had been questioned.

“In recent years, the Bavarian Central Office for the Prosecution of Cybercrime has worked very closely with the Office of the Prosecutor General in Tbilisi on several complex investigations regarding large-scale online investment scams,” an official from the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Bavaria, Germany, told Telegraph Sport.

“In October 2021 and November 2022, large-scale action days with a large number of operational measures were organised in two distinct proceedings. Despite the numerous challenges that are due to the professionalism of cross-border organised crime, great successes were achieved together. These joint investigations are still ongoing.

“A. [Aleksidze] was arrested in Lithuania in March 2023 on the basis of a European arrest warrant obtained by the Bavarian Central Office for the Prosecution of Cybercrime and subsequently extradited to Germany. The arrest warrant was initially suspended at the end of June. In October, it was then lifted completely at our request because A. played at most a minor role in the relevant fraud network.

“However, the investigations are still ongoing. I cannot tell you when any charges will be brought, but it will certainly take some time in view of the investigations into the overall complex.”

Aleksidze played 28 times for Georgia’s national team and scored two goals. He came to Chelsea’s attention after promising displays for Dinamo Tbilisi as well as Georgia’s under-21 side and, in 1997, was invited for a two-week trial during Ruud Gullit’s spell in charge.

Rules on signing foreign players at the time would see Aleksidze return to Dinamo, helping them win three successive titles between 1997-99, before he could finally join Chelsea full-time. In total, Aleksidze made three appearances for the club, totalling only 63 minutes under Claudio Ranieri.

Aleksidze is related to a senior figure in the ruling Georgian Dream party, which a senior Conservative MP has linked to corruption in the Commons. According to reports in Germany, cyber criminals have been running rampant in Tbilisi due to the connections between politics and organised crime.

Adam Holloway, the Conservative MP for Gravesham, speaking in Parliament in April, also expressed concern around potential political support for Vladimir Putin in Russia.

“Britain’s support is very important for Georgia,” he said. “There are patriotic people in the Georgian government and parliament, but the pro-Russian groups are getting stronger at their expense.”