The offices of Newcastle United and West Ham United were raided on Wednesday morning as part of a wide-ranging HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) investigation into suspected criminal tax fraud in professional football, reports The Guardian.
Newcastle’s managing director Lee Charnley is reported to have been arrested in connection with the investigation, just two days after the team clinched promotion to the Premier League.
Newcastle’s training ground, Darsley Park, in the suburb of Benton, was also raided by the tax authorities. The club’s players are reported to have been shocked to find the raid’s aftermath when they turned up for morning training.
The UK’s tax authority said in a statement: “HMRC has arrested several men working within the professional football industry for a suspected Income Tax and National Insurance fraud.”
West Ham declined to comment on reports that 50 HMRC officers raided their London Stadium home and seized business records and documents, but confirmed in an official statement: “The club is cooperating fully with HMRC to assist their enquiries.”
HMRC is known to have been conducting wide-ranging investigations into the tax affairs of football clubs, and the tax paid on multi-million pound transfers and image rights deals, as public attitudes have hardened against tax avoidance and evasion.
While not confirming the focus of this investigation except that it relates to income tax and national insurance, HMRC said that it also involves the tax authorities in France, where arrests and searches have also been made. Lucrative transfer deals between French and English clubs have become increasingly frequent in the Premier League era, and Newcastle United in particular have been noted for signing a series of players from French clubs.
In its statement, HMRC also said: “180 HMRC officers have been deployed across the UK and France today. Investigators have searched a number of premises in the North East 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. This criminal investigation sends a clear message that, whoever you are, if you commit tax fraud you can expect to face the consequences. As this is an ongoing investigation HMRC is unable to provide any further detail at this time.”