Uefa has announced that it has opened a formal investigation into Premier League champions Manchester City, following allegations that the club has serially breached financial fair play rules.
The accusations emerged late last year when a report in German magazine Der Spiegel, based on documents obtained by the Football Leaks website, claimed that City had been disguising huge investment from their owner, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al- Nahyan, as sponsorship deals through various UAE-based companies.
One email exchange seen by Der Spiegel appeared to imply that while the total value of the Etihad airline’s sponsorship of City had reached £67.5m, only £8m of this had actually been contributed by the airline, with Abu Dhabi United Group – Sheikh Mansour’s holding company – topping the sponsorship up by almost £60m over the course of six years.
While Uefa rules don’t prohibit sponsorships from brands connected with club owners, they do stipulate that they must be for a “fair value”. Even if City Football Group demonstrates that the deal represents market value, they will still face a charge of submitting dishonest accounts to Uefa.
Until now, Manchester City has maintained silence on the matter, saying only that it would not provide “any comment on out-of-context materials purported to have been hacked or stolen”.
In light of the opening of the investigation, however, City Football Group has issued a response, stating that the club “welcomes the opening of a formal Uefa investigation as an opportunity to bring to an end the speculation resulting from the illegal hacking and out of context publication of City emails. The accusation of financial irregularities are entirely false. The club’s published accounts are full and complete and a matter of legal and regulatory record.”
Earlier this year Yves Leterme, chairman and chief investigator of Uefa’s Club Financial Control Body, threatened City with expulsion from Uefa competitions if it was found guilty of serious breaches of FFP rules.