Lauren Kreamer is a CAST board member and is the barrister who represented Panorama Magic at the injunction hearings at the High Court and the Court of Appeal in October. After the conclusion of formal business at the CAST AGM on Thursday she gave a short presentation about her experience during the recent months of the Charlton ownership shenanigans and then answered questions from members. This is what she told us:
Expressions of gratitude
I wanted to say, firstly, that I’ve so appreciated the kind messages I’ve received from Charlton fans, and I wanted to take this opportunity to thank people for their support. Like all fans, dealing with the stresses of the last year took its toll at times, and knowing that I had the support of fans in playing my small part made a huge difference.
I think it’s also important that I place on record the debt of gratitude we owe to people who, behind the scenes, were doing everything they could to protect our club from the ‘cast of characters’ working to destroy it.
We all know, I think, what Tracey Leaburn, Olly Groome and Mick Everett, in particular, risked to protect Charlton – their livelihoods, their reputations, and their personal wellbeing – and we’ll never truly be able to repay them for that. It’s only through the presence behind the scenes of proper Charlton people, who understand what the club is and what it means, that we still have a club to pay £10 to watch lose away at Burton on a Tuesday night. I’m sure we’d all want to thank them, and the others who stood up for what was right in the face of staggering mismanagement, for that.
Equally, Lee Bowyer and Steve Gallen were going above and beyond the call of duty, including making calls to try to move things along on the operational and ownership side, and giving evidence in the injunction proceedings to try to explain to the Court of Appeal the risks involved in allowing the transfer embargo to remain in place, all alongside the nigh-on impossible task of trying to hold things together on the footballing side. We all know what we owe them, and their contribution will never be forgotten.
Moving from contributions we all know about, to those many people are less aware of. I also think it’s right and proper that I place on record my thanks to Marian Mihail. He became a member of the supporters’ trust earlier this year, and worked tirelessly behind the scenes to keep Charlton alive. I worked alongside him in relation to the injunction proceedings, and while I appreciate that fans had, and have, a healthy scepticism for anything ESI-related, he was performing an extremely delicate balancing act, and I hope that the end result speaks for itself. I don’t think it’s putting it too strongly to say that without Marian’s efforts, the sale to Thomas Sandgaard may well not have happened, and I wanted to say, publicly, that I am grateful for all the hard work Marian put into keeping our club alive.
The Paul Elliott letter
We should be able to focus exclusively now on the positives – of which there are many. There have been times this year when I have felt desperate and despondent about the future of our football club (and that’s before I even get started on Naby leaving us) and the recalibration to a sense of hope and excitement for the future is an ongoing process.
Part of the reason for that is the lingering presence and noise of those whose names should never again be mentioned in the same breath as our brilliant club. I’m talking, of course, about a certain letter which was sent to Thomas Sandgaard, stating that Paul Elliott is the rightful owner of Charlton Athletic, and that Thomas is ordered to leave the club. I’m hesitant even to bring this up – it deserves no credibility – but I know that many people have been worried about it, and so I wanted to give a very brief explanation and update.
Some of you may have seen the Tweet I put out immediately after the existence of the letter was disclosed. I was, and remain, deeply frustrated about the irresponsible way in which the nature and contents of the letter were reported by the BBC and subsequently adopted by a number of other outlets.
It was not a court order. It was not a ‘notice’, in any formal sense. It was, very simply, a letter that any one of us could have written.
What the court order says
The order that Paul Elliott has referred to on the radio and in the press release, such as it was, is an order in the litigation between Lex Dominus – his company – and Panorama Magic. I should say something very briefly about the order being “sealed” because Elliott said on national radio that an order being sealed meant that it was confidential and its contents couldn’t be revealed. That is categorically untrue. When a hearing concludes barristers will typically agree an order between them and send it to the judge. The judge then approves it and sends it to the court office to be “sealed”. What that means is that they stamp it with the official court stamp which back in the day would have been a wax seal. That’s what a sealed order is – it just means that it has been approved by the judge. It definitely doesn’t mean that it is confidential - if court orders were confidential there would be no point having them at all. It is clearly Elliott’s strategy not to reveal the contents of the court order because it doesn’t say what he wants us to believe it says.
You’ll recall that the claim Lex Dominus issued back in September was against Panorama Magic, and was for a declaration that the contract they had agreed in principle at the end of May for the purchase of the shares in East Street Investments was valid and binding. In other words, Paul Elliott wanted the court to confirm that Lex Dominus had bought East Street Investments, which was the parent company of Charlton Athletic Football Company Limited.
Panorama Magic was ordered to pay certain costs in relation to the injunction proceedings. It didn’t do that, and it’s my understanding that, essentially, it hasn’t been heard from since. I suspect, though don't for sure, that it no longer exists. From my side, I was dis-instructed very shortly after Panorama Magic filed its defence in those proceedings, as were the solicitors. Because of its failure to pay those costs, Panorama Magic’s defence in the claim was struck out, and Lex Dominus therefore has an order which says that the agreement to purchase ESI in May was valid and binding, and that Lex Dominus is entitled to have the shares in ESI transferred to it.
The order has nothing to do with Charlton Athletic Football Company Limited. CAFC wasn’t a party to those proceedings, and the order doesn’t affect it.
What the order says is that, from the end of May 2020, Lex Dominus was the owner of ESI. Elliott, through Lex Dominus, has an order which says that he must have ESI shares transferred to him. That’s it. So that’s an order which, effectively, bites against Panorama Magic and Matt Southall.
As we know, ESI no longer owns anything. It’s two bald men fighting over a comb. ESI’s only asset – CAFC – was sold to Clear Ocean Capital (Thomas Sandgaard’s company) by the directors of ESI, acting on the ostensible authority of its shareholders. If Lex Dominus now says that ESI has been deprived of an asset, it can go ahead and sue the entities and individuals who authorised the sale of that asset – Panorama Magic and Matthew Southall. Lex Dominus v Matthew Southall – the litigation equivalent of Palace v Millwall if ever there was one.
I hope that helps, and my apologies that it’s all so tedious. I just wanted to provide something of a detailed response for those who are interested, not least because I know the effect the constant fear of everything falling apart has on us all.
In summary, and for what it’s worth, I am not worried about this letter. Freshfields – Thomas Sandgaard’s extremely expensive, experienced and prestigious lawyers - are not worried about the letter and I hope that we can all start to move on from the stresses of the past year, and ignore these antics.
Q: If Lex Dominus owned ESI officially in May and ESI owned CAFC surely the owner of ESI at the time had the right to sell CAFC?
LK: Let’s suppose you buy a car from a company, and you subsequently discover that the person you bought it from wasn’t authorised to sell it. The owner of the company comes knocking at your door and says “that’s my car”. It doesn’t matter. You bought it from someone who was ostensibly allowed to sell it. The remedy for the owner is to sue the person who wasn't authorised to sell it.
Thomas Sandgaard bought something from the people who were registered at Companies House as the directors and shareholders of ESI so, as far as he was concerned, they were entitled to sell that asset. If Elliott wants to go after anyone, he will have to go after the people who sold it – i.e. Panorama Magic and Southall. As I’ve said, it will be like Palace v Millwall: no winners as far as we’re concerned, and of no interest to us. It is not Thomas’s problem and it is not the club’s problem.
It is important to stress that Thomas would have taken advice at the time from Freshfields. These are some of the world’s best lawyers. If they and Thomas are saying it is watertight then I’m happy with it.
Q: I’ve heard about Baton. Is Baton significant in any way?
LK: No. Baton is a company that was incorporated in relation to Roland’s ownership. So it is one of the parties with which Clear Ocean Capital (Thomas’s company) would likely have contracted with for the purchase of CAFC.
Q: As far as you can tell what was the motivation for Claudiu Florica and Marian Mihail to get involved at Charlton?
LK: That’s a good question. I’m aware of all the work you did at the time and for which we were massively grateful. I didn’t have much involvement with Claudiu Florica. He was involved and he was working behind the scenes and I have to say that as far as I can tell he was working in the interests of the club, although he wasn’t as involved as Marian was. Their initial motivation is a good question and it is probably one best answered by them, but it is a question we (CAST) asked them. And their explanation was (and from Marian’s perspective I believe it) that they had been involved in Dinamo Bucharest, and you may know that Tahnoon Nimer had at one time looked into buying or investing in Dinamo. It is a matter I think of public record that they were quite closely involved in Dinamo, including in an academy connected to the club. That’s where the connection, I think, initially developed.
My understanding is they were not intended to be involved with Charlton when Tahnoon Nimer first became involved. It was only when he realised the mismanagement (the Range Rovers etc.) from Southall’s side that he felt he needed someone on the ground and that’s when Marian and Claudiu came in. Marian is a fluent English speaker so I’m sure that played a part.
But their motivation was, I think, to a very significant extent, as football people and as football fans. The analogy that Marian always used was that the club was “on life support” when he came in and he wanted to be able to leave the club as a “stable patient”. From the many conversations I had with Marian, from working with him through the CAST board and subsequently over the injunction, they are clearly both passionate football people who understand how much people care about their clubs, and they felt a sense of responsibility to look after the club.
They, in particular Marian, took that responsibility very seriously. He was for instance gutted when we were relegated. He had thought that his role was to keep the club up if at all possible but then it became clear that the bigger task was keeping the club alive. Marian did a huge amount behind the scenes. He was calling us at CAST regularly, coming up with proposals about how we might help get various things over the line. As I said, it is my view that the deal to Thomas may well not have happened at all but for Marian’s involvement. He and Claudiu were thrown into it but, as they got to know and love the club, it became a motivation to ensure that there was still a club left after they were no longer involved.
Q: Do you know anything about Elliott’s claim that he has put money into the club?
LK: Yes. This was evidence in the injunction proceedings. Different figures have been flung about and I know that Thomas and his lawyers are looking into it. I suspect it is part of an ongoing conversation.
My understanding is that money was put into the club although I don’t know how much. We asked for evidence of the origins of that money and we never got it. I leave people to draw their own inferences from that.
My view (although it is also a view shared by others) is that what he is doing at the moment in putting pressure on Thomas in relation to ownership of the club is simply a mechanism for enforcing a settlement. He doesn’t care about owning the club. He never cared about owning the club.
There was discussion at some time about him having said that he had lost the toss of a coin for who would be the public face of the football club from behind the consortium!
He just wants his money back. I think there is money he wants back. He should be going about it through the proper channels and not seeking to exert pressure in other ways.
Q: Is it true that Thomas Sandgaard has agreed to cover some liabilities if or when they arise?
LK: Well. He says he has put £12m into a bank account which is gradually being chipped away for operational liabilities.
But I imagine you are referring to liabilities from the former mismanagement of the club. When you buy any company, you do so on the understanding that there may be certain liabilities and you will remain liable for them. You will ask for disclosures from the people selling and, if you know about liabilities, you accept responsibility. If you didn’t, you can try and go back and say “you never told us about this and we wouldn’t have bought the company if we had known about it”.
I don’t know the details of the agreements between Thomas and the sellers but I do know that he is not just paying off any and all bills as and when they arrive on his doormat.
As we all know, there have been many. For example, the £2.1m, I think, consulting invoice from Southall. The £10k invoice from Southall’s partner’s design consultancy or whatever it was. There were the Range Rovers and many others were putting in consultancy invoices. It was a total free for all. He is not simply receiving invoices and paying them. He has said that it all remains with his lawyers and is being unpicked.
I should say that, from when Marian Mihail and Claudiu Florica took over operations my understanding is that they equally were not just paying bills that came through the door either. There were hundreds of thousands of pounds of bills from lawyers, and those were on the basis of no letters of engagement or agreement on the scope of work. Settlement was later reached on some and, where they were totally without merit such as interior design invoices, I suspect they have been chucked in the bin where they belong.
Q: Does Chris Farnell still have any fee claims against the club from when he was reportedly CAFC’s solicitor?
LK: Forgive me if I choose my words quite carefully but my understanding is that, if there are any outstanding fee claims, Thomas will not be paying them. That is my understanding of his feeling towards Farnell’s involvement at the club. You may know that there are outstanding complaints to the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority (SRA) about Farnell’s conduct as a lawyer and that of his firm, IPS Law. It is my view that, given the way Thomas has responded to Farnell’s communications in the past, that I don’t think there’ll be any money changing hands in that way.
Q: Do you think ESI’s intentions were to burn the club into the ground and sell all the assets so they could get the profits?
LK: I think we probably know that the intentions of the actions of certain of the “cast of characters” – such as buying Range Rovers and leasing a luxury flat – are the actions of people who have seen a cash cow. I think their intention from the start was to go into the club and use it to facilitate a certain life-style. I’ve always thought that, if they had been a bit smarter and done it in a more moderate way, they could have got away with it for a lot longer, but they took the ‘bull in a china shop’ approach. I don’t know what football club they thought they were involved in. I don’t know how much money they thought there was.
Part of the work that Thomas wants to continue (and I’m sure CAST will help him in any way we can) is highlighting and bringing to the attention of the powers that be the massive crises there are in football ownership because, aside from the Range Rovers, there are just massive questions about how you can buy a club and have it put into administration a few weeks later because you’ve put a bet on them getting relegated. It is just truly horrifying, staggering stuff. Although your question is specifically about ESI’s intentions there is a broader question about how we can turn our horrible experience into something good and positive to ensure that this never happens again.
Q: Do we know what happened to the flat? Has anything been resolved?
LK: Yes, there was a six-month break clause which I think Marian Mihail and Claudiu Florica used to end the lease. So, I’m afraid the next raffle won’t be to spend Christmas or Easter overlooking the Thames.
Q: Why do you think Lex Dominus didn’t specifically reference the sale of the football club in the injunction? Was it just a basic mistake?
LK: It’s a great question and its one that kept me awake for weeks and months on end. Obviously, I wasn’t instructed in relation to the sale as that would have been improper because I was instructed in relation to the injunction proceedings. It is a question I still don’t know the answer to and I suspect that your speculation is right.
What I can say is that, if they had asked the court to grant an injunction restraining the sale of the shares in ESI and CAFC, I have absolutely no doubt that the court would have granted that injunction.
Q: Do you know if the previous directors’ loans have been settled?
LK: I don’t know. There was ongoing correspondence about it. Thomas did say in interviews that he wanted to get everything on an even keel before he came in and that included the freeholds of The Valley and Sparrows Lane. He wasn’t able to sort that out in time and of course time became of the essence for him. He wanted to get the deal done and he is a businessman – I suspect he knew that there were greater priorities and certain things had to be battles for another day.
Q: Has there been any contact with Burnley and its supporters about Farnell’s driven bid for their club, outlining his history with our club?
(Andy Buckland confirmed at this point that there had been contact not just supporters but also with other people involved with Burnley FC in the club and that we are sharing as much information as we can with those people.)
LK: You will know that you can’t own or have a financial interest in more than one English football club. On the one hand Farnell and EL Kashashy are saying “we want to buy Burnley”, and are putting money into that, but they are on the other hand also nevertheless insisting that they are the people who fronted up the money for Charlton and therefore that they still have a financial interest in Charlton. You will see that those things don’t align. We don’t know where it is going with Burnley, but I don’t think those things are consistent and I’m sure, at the appropriate juncture, that will be drawn to the attention of the relevant authorities.
Q: Do Richard Murray or Peter Varney have a role in the club?
LK: No. Thomas hasn’t appointed a board of directors. It is just him.
On behalf of all Charlton supporters we would all like to thank Lauren very much for her contribution to Charlton's survival and for taking the time to explain some of the background.
The morning after the AGM we woke up to the "news" that Lex Dominus had been sold to a Cardiff based accountant, Craig Freeman. Thomas Sandgaard, interviewed by Benjy Nurick commented as follows:
“As you know, we now have this competition where a fan can win one of those Range Rovers, the one Chris Farnell was driving around in. It’s kind of interesting because that has driven a lot of bad press towards Chris Farnell. And if you look at Chris Farnell’s dealings in English football, including what looks like asset-stripping of clubs, he’s obviously highly dependent on his reputation in order to still do business in England. It didn’t go so well when he came to Charlton!
“So I think the announcement of selling Lex Dominus which is his and Paul Elliott’s little empty company, selling that to an individual in Wales is really meant as more of a distraction for people in general not to focus on Chris Farnell and instead to focus on all the turbulence around Charlton. So that’s interesting.
“If you look at the legal side of the ownership of Charlton, it’s all said and done so there’s really not much to talk about there. But it looks like this guy ‘Tooth’ Freeman, he probably bought Lex Dominus from those two guys for one pound. I’ve been looking at this guy and it looks like, or at least he’s stating that he’s been dabbling with being an agent in the football world. That’s probably where he met Chris Farnell. And as a matter of fact, we’ve found that during the takeover of the club there were millions of tweets relating to that and they were all very positive, there were a few that were skeptical…but there was maybe a dozen or less that were supportive of Farnell and Elliott. And one of those few happens to be ‘Tooth’ Freeman…they obviously know each other quite well. So I’m actually surprised he didn’t get a Range Rover too!
“But we also know he’s pretty smart because he’s smart enough to delete that incriminating tweet. Those guys…they just keep being good entertainment!”
“I look forward to continuing to work with the EFL to improve on keeping shady characters out of English football. Bury was obviously a smaller entity, but Charlton is a pretty significant club with a lot of history and it’s amazing that it could get that close.”
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