LONDON • British and French authorities launched a major investigation yesterday into a suspected £5 million (S$8.96 million) tax fraud in the football industry, with Premier League club West Ham confirmed to have been targeted.
Nearly 200 tax officials from the two countries swooped on premises on both sides of the Channel in morning raids, arresting several men and seizing financial records.
Newcastle United, who this week won promotion to the Premier League, are also thought to have been targeted, but have yet to comment.
"HMRC has arrested several men working within the professional football industry for a suspected £5 million income tax and National Insurance fraud," British tax authority HMRC (Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs) said in a statement.
"Investigators have searched a number of premises in the northeast and south-east of England and arrested the men and also seized business records, financial records, computers and mobile phones.
"The French authorities are assisting the UK investigation, have made arrests and several locations have been searched in France."
West Ham confirmed they were under investigation.
British reports said tax officials had searched West Ham's offices in their London Stadium home.
The Press Association news agency reported that one of the raids was on Newcastle's St James' Park ground in north-east England, with managing director Lee Charnley among those arrested.
West Ham, currently 14th in the English top flight, said they were "cooperating fully with HMRC to assist their enquiries".
Premier League leaders Chelsea revealed they, too, had been visited by tax officials, but there is not thought to be any allegations of wrongdoing against the club.
"In connection with its wider investigation, HMRC has requested certain information which the club will provide," a Chelsea spokesman said.
British reports said the investigations were linked to the transfer market and several experts suggested the probes particularly concerned the issue of image rights.
In January, the British Parliament's Committee of Public Accounts published a report in which it said rules on image rights were being "exploited" in order to avoid taxes.
The rule allows footballers to declare income from image rights separately from their main salary.
It incentivises players to maximise the proportion of income deemed to be a part of their image rights in order to reduce their tax liabilities.
In the report, the committee said HMRC had opened enquiries about the image rights of 43 football players, eight agents and 12 clubs.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN