Family who owns Blackpool FC uses club as “personal cash machine”
The Oyston family, owners of Blackpool FC, have been accused at the High Court of treating the club as "the family's personal cash machine".
Lawyers for Latvian millionaire Valeri Belokon, the club's president, were launching what could prove to be one of British football's most expensive legal actions.
Andrew Green QC alleged on Monday at the start of a five-week hearing that Owen and Karl Oyston, owner and chairman of the Lancashire club, had "improperly" extracted millions of pounds from its funds following promotion to the Premier League in 2010 and used the money for their own benefit.
Mr Belokon's company VB Football Assets, a minor shareholder in the club, was excluded from key decisions, information and any share of profits, said Mr Green.
VB Football is pursing a claim against the Oystons for "unfair prejudice" against shareholders.
The claim is also against Blackpool FC Ltd itself and Blackpool FC (Properties) Ltd, a company with family links formerly known as Segesta.
The Oystons are vigorously denying the claims in what has developed into a bitter legal battle.
Mr Green told Mr Justice Marcus Smith, sitting in London, that as a result of the Seasiders reaching the Premier League, the club received some £106 million.
The unprecedented influx of cash over five years from the Premier included £48 million in respect of the 2010/11 season, followed by some £58 million in "parachute payments" following Blackpool's relegation at the end of the season.
Mr Green said: "Owen and Karl Oyston have treated Blackpool Football Club as the Oystons' personal cash machine."
The QC said the family's case was that at all times they had been transparent and open in relations to payments made out of the club.
"Our case is that this is simply inconsistent when you consider the documents.
"There was, in fact, the adoption of a deliberate strategy by the Oyston family to take cash out of Blackpool Football Club, and do so in a way VB Football Assets and its nominated directors could do nothing to stop that was the antithesis of transparency."
Mr Belokon won a court case in Manchester in February this year in a dispute with the Oystons over his share of profits after he provided £4.7 million in July 2008 to develop the south stand and south-west corner of the club's stadium.
That case was brought by JSC Baltic International Bank, owned by Mr Belokon, against Segesta Ltd, the holding company for the club's assets.
In March, the club announced Mr Belokon was being suspended from its board as a result of a judgement in the Paris Court of Appeal related to disputed allegations of money laundering involving two banks founded or owned by him.
Mr Green told the court the club's lack of investment in its playing squad since 2010 had attracted the hostility of fans and ridicule in the national media.
The club was relegated at the end of the 2010/11 season from the Premier League to the Championship and ended up in League 2, the fourth and bottom league of English professional football. It has just gained promotion back to League 1.
Mr Green said that in the period of its decline, over £29 million had been paid out of the club to Segesta in the form of frequently undocumented loans, and in 2012 a "directors' emolument" was paid to Zabaxe Ltd, the service company owned by Owen Oyston.
Alan Steinfeld QC, appearing for the club and the Oystons, defended the payments and said they were all made "lawfully, openly with no attempt at concealment and every single one of them was ratified by the board".
Save for the personal payment to Zabaxe, the transfers were not for the personal benefit of the Oyston family, he said.
The majority were for the construction and development of the stadium, which had enormous benefit for the club, said Mr Steinfeld.
The personal payment to Owen Oyston - a fervent fan since childhood - was justified by the amount of work he had put into saving the club since he had taken it over in 1987, when, despite its long and distinguished history, it was approaching bankruptcy and the stadium was virtually derelict.
The club had always been run "on prudent lines", particularly as fortunes could be lost paying astronomical transfer fees for players, said Mr Steinfeld.
Despite all that had been said against the club, and while not splashing out,"it has actually spent some £60 million on players and wages of players since the 2012 season", he said.
Mr Steinfeld accused Mr Belokon, since falling out with the club, of concentrating on getting out "for the maximum sum he can squeeze out of the Oystons".
He had set the sum as high as £24 million.
At the same time he had been praised by Blackpool fans as "a knight in shining armour coming to rescue them".
Mr Steinfeld said: "Reports indicated that he wanted to take over the club and get the Oystons out, but not a single offer has been made by Mr Belokon for the purchase of Oyston shares.
"Mr Belokon is not a knight in shining armour. He wants to get out."
The hearing resumes on Tuesday.