Valeri Belokon, president of Blackpool FC, says claims of money laundering in Kyrgyzstan are politically motivated
A powerful eastern European financier who is a close ally of Prince Charles is contesting claims that he has been involved in money laundering. Valeri Belokon, a Latvian banker, has protested his innocence to the Observer.
Belokon is principal shareholder in Baltic International Bank and set up, with Charles and a Kuwaiti princess, a joint venture called PF Urban, to promote ecological design. He also became president of Blackpool FC in 2006, after taking a 20% stake in the club.
He is accused by the authorities in the central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan of helping facilitate the theft of millions of pounds’ worth of state assets. Belokon says the claims are politically motivated and without foundation. In an emailed statement, Belokon said: “I am still in dispute with the Republic of Kyrgyzstan and [the] Kyrgyz side continue to provide worldwide false information about me, perhaps in an effort to negatively influence the process against me.”
The allegations are an irritation for the banker whose profile has been steadily growing since he bought into Blackpool and, four years later, was appointed to the board of trustees of The Prince’s Foundation, one of Charles’s charities.
Belokon is a former close business associate of Maxim Bakiyev, whose father, Kurmanbek, was president of Kyrgyzstan until 2010, when he fled to Belarus following an uprising. The men have been partners in ventures across Europe and Asia.
Bakiyev, who lives in Surrey and has sought asylum in the UK, is now fighting extradition to the US over allegations of insider dealing. Like Belokon, he is wanted in Kyrgyzstan on charges of money laundering and theft. Nicknamed “the prince” because of his luxurious lifestyle, Bakiyev rarely went anywhere in his native country without bodyguards.
According to Grave Secrecy, a report by the anti-corruption watchdog Global Witness, Belokon and Bakiyev were co-owners of a Latvian company called Maval Aktivi. Documents seen by the Observer show that in 2008 Blackpool FC’s majority shareholder, Segesta Limited, received a £2.5m loan from another Belokon company, VB Football Assets. Documents suggest the money originally came from Maval Aktivi. Belokon told the Observer the money was used to build a new stand at Blackpool’s ground, Bloomfield Road. He told Global Witness that Bakiyev was not involved in the deal.
Where the money came from is likely to be of interest to the Kyrgyzstan authorities as they seek to recover what they allege were misappropriated state assets.
A letter from the Kyrgyz prosecutor-general’s office to the Crown Prosecution Service, written in 2010, alleges that €450m was deposited into accounts in Riga belonging to companies, including Maval Aktivi, owned by Bakiyev.
The UK authorities were asked for help in freezing any UK accounts linked to the businesses but it is not clear what assistance, if any, was provided. Both Bakiyev and Belokon fiercely deny the claims made by the prosecutor general.
In 2011, a Kyrgyz court decided allegations that Belokon, Bakiyev and others formed “an organised criminal group for the legalisation [laundering] of proceeds obtained by criminal means” had been made without any evidence and ordered prosecutors to fill in “missing gaps” if they were to continue with their case.
Belokon declined to comment on the nature of his business dealings with Bakiyev, once reputedly Kyrgyzstan’s richest man. There are claims Bakyiev saw himself as a putative Roman Abramovich – the Russian oligarch who owns Chelsea FC. The source of that wealth is now under scrutiny. Documents filed in a New York court allege that Bakiyev is accused in Kyrgyzstan of “the theft of state assets, laundering stolen funds and other crimes arising from alleged corruption in the deposed regime”.
Any extradition of Bakiyev, who denies all charges, carries political consequences. He handled fuel supply contracts for the Manas airbase in Kyrgyzstan, which is key to US military operations in Afghanistan.
The Kyrgyz government has warned that it would shut the airbase if the UK, which has no extradition treaty with the country, refused to surrender Bakiyev.
The British embassy in the country has issued a statement noting: “We are conscious that… people of Kyrgyzstan are keen to ensure that those accused of past abuses of power are brought before the courts.”
A lawyer for Bakiyev said the charges against his client were bogus and politically motivated.