The Treasury’s sanctions police have been reviewing the finances of the Everton Football Club owner, Farhad Moshiri, the Guardian understands.
Moshiri appears to have become a person of interest to the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (OFSI) because of his links to Alisher Usmanov, the Russian-Uzbek billionaire who was sanctioned by the UK, the EU and the US after last year’s invasion of Ukraine.
Usmanov has also been barred from entering the UK since September 2021 after his presence was “not deemed conducive to the public good”.
The apparent interest in Moshiri coincides with months of reporting by the Guardian, which has raised questions about the influence Usmanov has exerted over Moshiri and the Premier League club, including how the Russian tycoon came to attend job interviews with a series of prospective Everton managers before March 2022.
It also follows a Guardian report that revealed how the club’s auditor, BDO, stepped away from signing off the club’s accounts last year – a decision sources said was related to the ownership of the Premier League team.
The Guardian understands that BDO’s concerns led to OFSI being notified about Moshiri, who has hired an expert sanctions lawyer at Peters & Peters – one of the UK’s largest law firms – according to correspondence sent to the Guardian on Moshiri’s behalf.
The news of OFSI’s apparent interest in Moshiri’s finances has emerged as the football team narrowly avoided relegation from the Premier League and while Moshiri is attempting to find investment to bankroll the club and complete its new stadium.
It is understood that an investment offer on the table would result in Moshiri – who is estimated to have ploughed £750m into Everton – losing control of the club without being paid a penny, according to sources close to the negotiations.
Any lack of payment to Moshiri could raise questions about whether Everton is being treated in a similar manner to Chelsea FC when it was acquired from the sanctioned oligarch Roman Abramovich last year. Abramovich was prevented by the UK government from benefiting financially from the sale of the London club.
OFSI, which has become more high-profile since the UK started sanctioning Russian oligarchs in March 2022, says its role is to intervene “to disrupt attempted breaches” of sanctions law and it has the power to “impose monetary penalties for breaches of financial sanctions”. Law enforcement bodies can also prosecute any alleged breaches in the criminal courts.
Earlier this month the Sunday Times’ 2023 Rich List estimated Moshiri is worth about £1.6bn. Aside from Everton, Moshiri is listed as the owner of UK property valued at more than £100m, including Liverpool’s Royal Liver Building and a series of luxury homes in north London.
In January, Moshiri told an Everton fans group: “The club is not for sale but I’ve been talking to top investors, really quality, to bridge a gap on a stadium. I can do it myself and the reason I want to do [it] is to bring top sport investors into Everton.”
However, the Guardian understands that Moshiri’s UK bank closed his account last year, seemingly because of his connections to Usmanov.
Moshiri declined to comment on OFSI’s apparent interest in his finances or the status of his UK bank account. The Treasury said that neither it nor OFSI commented on individual cases.
Questions about the links between Moshiri and Usmanov’s finances have lingered for years.
The pair previously owned a joint shareholding in Arsenal FC, with Moshiri selling his stake to Usmanov in 2016 to buy an initial holding of almost 50% in Everton.
However, records in the Paradise Papers leak suggest Moshiri’s original Arsenal shareholding was funded by a “gift” from Usmanov, which raised questions about whether the 69-year-old Russian oligarch’s funds first bought Everton shares. Moshiri, 68, who is a British national, has always insisted the leaked information is wrong and it was his money that made the investment. He has since increased his Everton stake to 94%.
Moshiri and Usmanov have also always denied that Usmanov has owned or controlled Everton, while Moshiri further disputes that Usmanov has attended job interviews of prospective Everton managers, some of whom said they were left with the impression that Usmanov was in charge of the club.
Earlier this month, the Guardian also revealed that Usmanov had been barred from the UK, six months before he was sanctioned by the Foreign Office because of his alleged connections to Russia’s President Putin.
Everton said it was aware that Usmanov, then a major club sponsor, had been barred from the UK but that the club had not broken any laws or Premier League rules.
In March 2022, Usmanov described the Foreign Office sanctions citation as “false and defamatory allegations damaging my honour, dignity and business reputation”, and vowed to fight it.