he Premier League’s ongoing legal battle with Manchester City over alleged breaches of League rules could ‘move glacially on for many more years’.
Two weeks before City’s title defence begins, the warning of ongoing turmoil comes from Stefan Borson, a former financial advisor to the club who also has experience dealing with complex litigation around accounting practices.
But Borson also expects the League (PL) to push on with their fight as he believes that are ‘likely being heavily pressurised by the 19 other clubs’.
As detailed in The Mail on Sunday last week, City have been embroiled in the secret battle since 2019, when the PL announced a formal investigation into allegations that arose in the ‘Football Leaks’ files published by German magazine Der Spiegel in 2018.
After a request for ‘open justice’, this newspaper was the only media company allowed into court recently to hear some proceedings on the case and, while no specific details are known about what the League are probing, it relates to Financial Fair Play (FFP), and is likely to be focused on whether City inflated their income in contravention of the rules.
Borson worked with City between 2002 and 2007 and it was on his advice that the club accepted a £90 million takeover offer the club by Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Thai Prime Minister.
A City fan, Borson is also a lawyer, and now chief executive and general counsel of a public company, Watchstone, formerly known as Quindell. Since 2015, he has been leading their defence against allegations of historic faulty accounting.
‘This has entrenched my group in the sort of regulatory and other litigation battles that City have faced,’ says Borson.
He has closely followed City’s FFP tribulations, from a first punishment by UEFA in 2014 for breaking the rules, to a second UEFA investigation in 2019, to a two-year Champions League in 2020, to a reversal of that verdict at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) last summer.
‘The underlying allegations made against City are not “rap on the knuckle” matters,’ said Borson. ‘It is apparent the PL are not yet minded to give up and are likely being heavily pressurised by the 19 other clubs to prosecute City to the full force of their powers, no matter how difficult.
‘This is an unenviable position for the PL which needs to protect the integrity of its rules whilst being cognisant of the legal and commercial power of City.’
‘If the PL decide to lay serious charges against City, this could yet move glacially on for many more years with the only real winners being lawyers.’
The most recent Court of Appeal judgements were defeats for City in as much as they meant the very existence of the battle with the PL should be made public, against their wishes.
‘The judgments also made plain the judges think City have been fighting with weak and tenuous tactical arguments for many months,’ said Borson. ‘Litigation is heavy going and parties fight hard. The idea that City should throw open their books and worldwide documents to scrutiny by UEFA, the PL or whoever else is unrealistic.
‘Battles around the disclosure of documents are routinely arduous. The League are not entitled to go on a fishing expedition, even less to demand documents from the palaces of Abu Dhabi.
‘Rightly, City will feel the burden is for others to prove a case against them. They have more than 10 years of clean audited accounts under the current owners. Which is why City’s approach is consistent with a leaked email from 2013 published by Der Spiegel in 2018.
‘It featured City lawyer Simon Cliff explaining that, rather than settle with UEFA in the then ongoing tussle over FFP, the club’s chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak “would rather spend £30m on the best 50 lawyers in the world to sue them for the next 10 years”.’