Friday, October 23, 2020

Soccer Agent and Club Manager Convicted of Bribery Charges

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A players’ agent and a senior club football manager have been convicted of bribery charges following a Telegraph investigation.

The two men were found guilty of soliciting and accepting bribes in order to gain influence in the selection, management and ownership of players.

Dax Price, 48, of Sittingbourne, Kent, was found guilty of two counts of paying and facilitating a bribe.

A jury of seven men and four women also returned a guilty verdict against Tommy Wright, 53, the former assistant manager of Barnsley FC, who was convicted on two counts of accepting a bribe.

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Price’s business partner, Giuseppe ‘Pino’ Pagliara, 64, of Bury, Greater Manchester, had already been found guilty last week of two counts of paying and facilitating a bribe.

Following the verdict His Honour Judge Jeffrey Pegden QC warned that Pagliara was like to face a “lengthy sentence”.

The charges followed an undercover investigation by The Daily Telegraph which raised allegations of serious corruption against the three men.

Covert recordings of conversations between Pagliara, Price, Wright and undercover reporters exposed claims that backhanders and illicit payments were commonplace in English football.

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After 31 hours and 51 minutes of deliberation the jury at Southwark Crown Court decided on a majority verdict of 10 to one that Price and Wright had themselves tried to buy influence and solicit favours through secret payments.

The pair showed no emotion as the verdicts were delivered.

Price was found to have arranged with Pagliara to pay Wright £5,000 in cash, with the promise of another £5,000 to come, in return for encouraging his players to sign with their sports agency, placing their players in the Barnsley first team, arranging a meeting with the owners of the club and supplying confidential information about his players’ contracts.

The bribe was paid in cash by an undercover reporter posing as an executive for a fictitious Far East sports conglomerate set up by this newspaper in 2016 as part of a sting operation, following a tip off about corruption in English football.

Price, who did not appear in the witness box for his own defence, denied he was corrupt, claiming through his defence barrister that he had been “bulls******g” and putting on a show for the fictitious conglomerate, named Meiran, telling its representatives “what they wanted to hear” in the hope of persuading it to buy a club.

But over the course of the eight week trial the jury heard numerous boasts from Price and Wright about using corrupt means.

Wright talked about “the spicy” and “dark” world of football finance in meetings about talent spotting players.

He was heard on a secret video recording telling Pagliara and Price: “I don’t want to get into the spicy world of your dealing too much”. He later added: “Yeah, yeah, dark world. I’ll help your players with that dark world.”

Wright said in court that he was merely trying to “break the ice” with his “nervous” comments.

He claimed he had taken the £5,000 cash payment as a consultancy fee for his professional opinion of players, but admitted in court he had not submitted any invoices for the work or any written reports on the players in question.

The three men were released on bail pending sentencing, with the judge ordering them to stay at an address provided to the court every night until they appear for sentencing.

Pagliara and Price were heard on tape claiming they were able to buy influence with managers.

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There was no evidence the managers they named in the taped conversations – including Sir Alex Ferguson, Harry Redknapp and Steve McLaren – were guilty of accepting bribes of gifts and cash.

But the jury had also heard that Pagliara and Price wanted to persuade Barnsley FC to enter a third party ownership arrangement with Meiran, by which the firm would own players on the club’s books.

Third party ownership arrangements are strictly against FA and FIFA rules. There is no evidence Barnsley had any intention of entering any third party arrangement.

All three defendants will be sentenced in the new year at a date to be set.

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