Emails have been released that appear to show the state of Abu Dhabi facilitating payments to Manchester City, reigniting the controversy that led to the club receiving a ban from European competition that was ultimately overturned at the court of arbitration for sport.
According to documents published by Der Spiegel, City liaised with a government agency in the Gulf State to fulfil payments to the club owed by a private company under the control of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family and City’s owner since 2008.
It comes alongside further claims that the Premier League is investigating the possibility City paid transfer fees for underage players and supplemented the salaries of their former manager, Roberto Mancini, by means of a secret consultancy contract.
City would not comment on the allegations but sources close to the club said the new reports were a continuation of an “orchestrated campaign” and part of “an endless attempt to harm us”. Previous allegations made by Der Spiegel which suggested City were the beneficiaries of inflated sponsorship deals directly funded by Sheikh Mansour led to the club receiving a two-year ban from the Champions League. That ban was subsequently canceled on appeal by Cas.
The new reports are based in part on a further tranche of documents released by the Football Leaks group. They show a number of communications between Simon Pearce, a member of the City board and vice-chairman of sister club Melbourne City FC, and Omar Awad, the finance director of the Executive Affairs Authority, an Abu Dhabi government agency.
In one email from 2013, Pearce is shown to ask Awad to forward a payment of £ 31.7m to City from a bank account belonging to the Abu Dhabi Investment and Development Group (ADUG). This is a fund owned by Sheikh Mansour but which UAE officials have consistently said is a private fund and unconnected to the state.
Further club communications published by Der Spiegel but previously reported on by Reuters show Pearce communicating from an EEA.gov.ae email address. One such mail is sent to Pearce from City’s then head of finance Andrew Widdowson on 7 December 2012 and asks for Pearce to “help in facilitating the amounts due via the Abu Dhabi partners”. Widdowson then goes on to specify sums of money to be directed through sponsors Etihad and Etisalat, two Abu Dhabi businesses. “I want to ensure that they come through the correct channels and are not picked up as separate sources of funding,” Widdowson writes.
Der Spiegel also reports that the Premier League is continuing to investigate City after nearly three years, in what the magazine claims is a three-pronged pursuit. Alongside questions about the involvement of the Abu Dhabi state in making payments to City, the Premier League are also reported to be looking into claims City recruited the then 14-year-old player Brahim Díaz, contrary to Fifa’s rules over the movement of minors. Der Spiegel claims that ADUG also paid € 360,000 in compensation to Díaz’s youth team, indirectly via Spanish intermediaries.
The Premier League are further reported to be investigating claims that were also part of the Football Leaks files, which appear to show that former manager Mancini both received a salary from City and a larger annual “consultancy” fee from Al Jazira Club, a group controlled by Sheikh Mansour. The supplementary fee was allegedly devised in order to circumvent Uefa’s Financial Fair Play rules.
The Premier League would not comment on the Der Spiegel allegations, nor the investigation into City which was confirmed as ongoing in a ruling by the court of appeal last year. In a statement released in 2019, the Premier League said it would not comment on the investigation further.