Malta tax advisors named in Spanish money laundering probe

Spanish authorities have charged football agent Abdilgafar Fali Ramadani and his associates with money laundering as part of an ongoing police operation, dubbed Lanigan

Ramadani, one of football’s biggest agents, has been involved in many high-profile transfers, among them Neymar to Paris Saint Germain, Luka Jovic to Real Madrid, and a good number of players from Eastern Europe to clubs such as Mallorca and Fiorentina
Ramadani, one of football’s biggest agents, has been involved in many high-profile transfers, among them Neymar to Paris Saint Germain, Luka Jovic to Real Madrid, and a good number of players from Eastern Europe to clubs such as Mallorca and Fiorentina

Spanish authorities have charged football agent Abdilgafar Fali Ramadani and his associates with money laundering as part of an ongoing police operation, dubbed Lanigan.

The police raids took place last Tuesday upon Ramadani’s arrival in Spain. The charges stem from reports published by the European Investigative Collaborations (EIC) network during the Football Leaks project of 2016, which revealed that the German-born Macedonian Ramadani and his football agency were orchestrating fictitious transfers via network of European clubs he secretly controlled.

A Malta-resident company, Lian Sports, is implicated in the investigation.

Spanish police has made fifty requests for documentation from companies, football clubs, and law firms in relation to the probe: they include Spanish teams that conducted deals with Ramadani like Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid, Sevilla, Betis and others.

The Spanish investigation focuses on the purchase in 2017, of two luxury homes in the municipality of Calvià, near Palma de Mallorca.

They were carried out by “two players’ agents linked to one of the representation agencies with the highest turnover in Europe” – the Spanish ministry for the interior said. The agents named are Fali Ramadani and his partner, Nikola Damjanac, a Serbian goalkeeper, who played for Partizan in Belgrade.

Ramadani and Damjanac are believed to have funnelled over €10 million into Spain to buy the Calvià homes, as well as yachts, and “sustain a high standard of living”.

According to the Spanish police, the laundering operation was aided, they said, by a firm of tax advisors in Malta, where Ramadani’s agency, Lian Sports, has its tax domicile. But the name of the tax advisors has not been made public by the investigation.

Until January 2020, Lian Sports was assisted in Malta by E&S Consultancy and their firm Solv International, which acted as fiduciaries for the company. In January, ‘B’ shares held by E&S and Solv in Lian were transferred to Irish firm Primus, Ramadani’s agency.

A spokesperson for E&S said the firm had no profits or voting rights in the company. The investigation in Spain is unrelated to the MFSA’s cancellation of E&S Consultancy’s registration over several regulatory breaches in November 2019. The company has appealed the decision.

Lian Sports is the third largest football agency in the world, according to Forbes magazine – behind Gareth Bale’s agent Jonathan Barnett, and Cristiano Ronaldo’s agent Jorge Mendes. Forbes estimates that Lian Sports has contracts worth $777 million and has earned $78 million in commissions.

Lian Sports represents Real Madrid’s Luka Jovic, Manchester City’s Leroy Sané and Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly among several other high-profile clients

Both Ramadani’s and Damjanac’s wives are also under investigation. A fifth person’s identity has not been disclosed.

According to infoLibre, Fali Ramadani lives in one of the houses, while the other is the registered office of Majorca Aleksa Terza SL, a company dedicated to the “sale and purchase of real estate on its own behalf,” whose administrators were Nikola Damjanac and his wife Sanja.

The Spanish Central Operational Unit (UCO), which is leading the investigation, however believes the real owner of the villa, valued at some €7 million, is Ramadani himself.

Assisted by the National Office for the Investigation of Fraud (ONIF) of the Tax Agency, and Europol, which have sent international letters rogatory to as-yet undisclosed countries, agents investigated the origin of the cash used by Ramadani and Damjanac to buy the two properties.

It is this arm of the investigation which led them to make allegations of their involvement in a “criminal organisation”.

The investigation focuses on a possible money laundering offence, based on a report by Sepblac, Spain’s financial intelligence unit.

In addition, the Macedonian agent is charged with a crime against the Spanish tax agency. The UCO considers that since he lives in Spain for more than half of the year, he is a Spanish resident and must pay taxes to the Spanish treasury; instead he pays a large part of his taxes in Cyprus, a territory with a much more lax taxation system.

Football Leaks

The Spanish investigation was kick-started thanks to documents disclosed by Football Leaks, in 2016, as part of investigations into Ramadani’s questionable dealings with Cypriot club Apollon Limassol, the Belgian Royal Excel Mouscron, and others from Serbia.

Back in December 2016, The Black Sea and EIC revealed that Apollon hired players who never actually played for the team, but that were instead immediately sold to other clubs for a hugely inflated price.

The Cypriot team was used as a “bridge club”, a practice disallowed by UEFA.

Football Leaks identified at least seven players from Serbia and Romania who passed through Apollon but never played for the team. One of them never even set foot on Cyprus.

Another is Luka Jovic, currently with Real Madrid, who was transferred from Apollon to Benfica in 2016.

The Spanish police claimed that Ramadani and his associates exerted control over several of the clubs that provided the defendants with “great benefits for their enrichment,” but risked causing “great economic damage” to the clubs themselves.

It also said that the tax evasion deprived various states of rightful revenue, and that the schemes with the clubs might constitute a criminal organisation, but the latter fell outside the scope of its investigations.

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