LONDON – Manchester City was accused by the Premier League on Monday of providing misleading information about its finances over a nine-year period when the club was attempting to establish itself as a force in English and European soccer following its takeover by Abu Dhabi’s ruling family.
The explosive development came after a four-year investigation by the world's most popular soccer league in the wake of leaked club emails and documents from City officials, published by German magazine Der Spiegel in 2018. The documents showed the extent of the schemes to allegedly cover up the true source of income in a bid to comply with financial regulations.
The Premier League has financial fair play rules designed to ensure clubs essentially spend what they earn from deals that are assessed for being at legitimate market value. The case could lead to a fine or a worse punishment, like a deduction in points.
The league released a long statement detailing a list of about 80 alleged breaches of its financial rules by City from 2009-18, the first nine full seasons under Abu Dhabi ownership. In that time, the team won three Premier League titles — in 2012, 2014 and 2018 — in what has become the most successful period in City's 143-year history.
The league also accused City of 30 more breaches relating to its alleged failure to co-operate with the investigation since December 2018.
The breaches were referred to an independent commission, which will be made up of three judges appointed by a lawyer who chairs the league’s judicial panel. The commission's hearing will be held in secret and there is no timetable for a verdict.
In a statement, City said it was “surprised" by the allegations, “particularly given the extensive engagement and vast amount of detailed materials that the EPL (English Premier League) has been provided with.”
“The club welcomes the review of this matter by an independent commission to impartially consider the comprehensive body of irrefutable evidence that exists in support of its position," City said. “As such we look forward to this matter being put to rest once and for all.”
The league has accused City of breaching rules requiring provision “in utmost good faith” of “accurate financial information that gives a true and fair view of the club’s financial position” between 2009-18 and failing to give “full details of manager remuneration in its relevant contracts” from 2009-13. Roberto Mancini was manager during that period.
The third and fourth offenses are a failure to comply with UEFA regulations from 2013-18 and the Premier League's profitability and sustainability rules from 2015-18.
For the fifth offense, City is accused of breaching rules requiring clubs to “co-operate with and assist the Premier League with its investigations” from December 2018 to the present day.
City, the defending Premier League champion and a team owning some of the world's top players like Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne, could be at risk of severe punishment. The league’s rule book gives a disciplinary commission powers to impose a range of sanctions plus the wider scope of “such other penalty as it shall think fit.”
A large fine seems inevitable if the charges are proven. Also in play is a point deduction, a title nullified or even being expelled from the Premier League, according to league rules.
City never disputed that the documents leaked by Der Spiegel were authentic, but has argued the evidence was stolen and reported out of context.
While City was under investigation by the Premier League, the club had a two-year ban from European club competitions overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in 2020 after UEFA ruled City committed “serious breaches” of financial fair play regulations from 2012-16. That case arose on the back of the leaked information, too.
The published evidence appeared to show City deceived UEFA by overstating sponsorship deals from 2012-16 and hid the source of revenue linked to state-backed companies in Abu Dhabi.
As for Mancini, the evidence in Der Spiegel showed he doubled his base salary of 1.45 million pounds (now $1.75 million) for advising a club in Abu Dhabi.
City was not fully cleared of wrongdoing in the UEFA case, though CAS said some of the allegations were not proven or could not be judged because of a statute of limitations in UEFA rules. There are no such time limits on the finances under investigation by the Premier League.
CAS also fined City 10 million euros (then $11.3 million) for failing to cooperate with investigators. The club’s “blatant disregard” should be “strongly condemned,” the court’s judges said.
City has been transformed into an English soccer power since being bought in September 2008 by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and a member of Abu Dhabi’s royal family.
A report from Deloitte last month said Man City generated the highest revenue of any club in the world — totaling 619.1 million pounds ($745 million) in the 2021-22 season.
Under its Abu Dhabi ownership, City — which previously lived in the shadow of neighbor Manchester United — has won six Premier League titles, two FA Cups and six English League Cups.
The team is in second place in the Premier League midway through this season, five points behind Arsenal having played one game more.
AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed to this story.
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