Saturday, September 19, 2020

Phoenix Thoroughbreds suspended from British horse racing over money laundering allegations

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Phoenix Thoroughbreds has been suspended by the BHA from having runners in Britain until further notice after the troubled group had its racing accounts frozen on Monday.

The ban marks another significant blow for the beleaguered operation with the BHA becoming the second racing regulator to take direct action against Phoenix, and the affiliated Phoenix Ladies Syndicate, following similar moves made by France Galop last month due to concerns over the source of funding for the organisation’s multi-million-pound spending.

Last month, Phoenix Thoroughbreds declared its intention to exit British racing “with immediate effect” citing continued media scrutiny, but has carried on having runners with regularity for trainers Ed Vaughan, Peter Chapple-Hyam, Archie Watson, Karl Burke and John Quinn, who saddled Frankenstella to win at York on Sunday for the group.

However, entries are not being accepted “until further notice” after the BHA reviewed the information it had available to it and following conversations with the Phoenix management.

In a statement released on Thursday, the BHA said: “Following Phoenix Thoroughbreds’ recent decision to leave UK racing, the BHA can today confirm that effective as of Monday, September 7, Phoenix Thoroughbreds are no longer able to have runners in races in Britain until further notice. Any horse currently entered will not be permitted to be declared in its current ownership.

“The racing administration accounts of all registered ownership entities that involve Phoenix Thoroughbreds have been suspended.

“Whilst the BHA can confirm that they are in regular correspondence with Phoenix Thoroughbreds, having reviewed the information available to date, the BHA has taken the decision to suspend the relevant accounts meaning Phoenix Thoroughbreds are unable to make entries until further notice.”

Phoenix has been in the spotlight since November when founder Amer Abdulaziz Salman, 56, was alleged in a New York court to be a key money-launderer for the fake $4 billion cryptocurrency scam OneCoin before allegedly stealing €100 million from the fraudsters. Abdulaziz categorically denies the allegations.

Neither Abdulaziz or Pamela Cordina, manager of Phoenix Ladies, responded to requests for comment on Thursday, but the group said in a statement that it had been cooperating with the BHA since declaring its intention to leave Britain.

The statement said: “Following Phoenix Thoroughbreds’ recent decision to leave UK racing, the BHA has confirmed that there will be a temporary suspension on our runners in the UK whilst a review of our operations are conducted.

“We are in direct contact with the BHA and are working with them very closely during this review period and see it as a chance to offer transparency after recent damaging media speculation in the UK.

“Phoenix Thoroughbreds have been proactively communicating with the BHA over their intention to place a temporary stop on our accounts.

“We would like to make it clear again there have been no charges levelled against Phoenix or its CEO Amer Abdulaziz.”

Several former associates have distanced themselves from Phoenix and Abdulaziz since the allegations emerged during the trial of former lawyer Mark Scott, who was convicted of laundering $400m in OneCoin funds using his bogus Fenero Funds, and subsequent Racing Post reports which showed Phoenix’s Luxembourg fund, lauded as the “world’s first regulated thoroughbred fund” was never regulated and never functioned as a fund at all.

Leading trainers Bob Baffert and Martyn Meade walked away from Phoenix following the allegations, as did the group’s former bloodstock adviser Dermot Farrington and its former head of equine Tom Ludt, who took a termination agreement in June citing concerns over allegations that money from OneCoin may have been invested in Phoenix.

Phoenix continues to operate in Ireland, the US and Australia, where Abdulaziz pledged to continue investing following the successes of Group 1 winners Farnan and Loving Gaby last season.

However, officials from Racing NSW have confirmed they are investigating Phoenix, while Racing Victoria are monitoring the allegations and speaking to international regulators.

Furthermore, Phoenix suffered a further setback when Loving Gaby was retired to stud due to injury, while Kia Ora Stud purchased the stallion rights to Farnan and bought leading juvenile Prague outright from Abdulaziz prior to both three-year-olds returning this season.

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