01.10.2021 18:58 h

Belgian justice charges football agent Zahavi with 'swindling'

Player agent Pini Zahavi has been charged in Belgium in an investigation into suspected fraud in the 2015 takeover of Belgian football club Mouscron.

The 78-year-old Israeli businessman was charged with "forgery and use of forgeries", "swindling" and "money laundering" by a Brussels judge, before being released, a source close to the case told AFP.

Contacted Friday by AFP, the federal prosecutor's office confirmed the charge but refused to give any details.

The Belgian investigation has been running since April 2018 into whether the agent had illegally acquired Mouscron.

Zahavi was interviewed and then charged in the last few weeks after responding to a summons, the source said, and released on condition that he appear at any future hearing of the Belgian justice.

Belgian justice suspects that Zahavi used shell companies to circumvent the ban on player agents owning clubs.

"Foreign companies would have made it possible to camouflage the control of the Mouscron club by a players' agent, the so-called P.Z.," wrote the Belgian Federal Prosecutor's Office at the end of 2018. The initials PZ refer to Pini Zahavi.

According to the Belgian press, Zahavi took over Mouscron through a Maltese fund, before selling the club a year later to a company managed by his nephew, effectively retaining control.

In February 2019, Mouscron was placed under judicial administration and its bank account temporarily frozen, at the request of the federal prosecutor's office.

It was taken over in 2020 by the Luxembourg businessman Gerard Lopez, the former owner of Lille and Bordeaux in French Ligue 1.

Zahavi, a former sports journalist, is registered as a player agent in England and lives in London and Tel Aviv.

He was an intermediary in the record-breaking deal that took Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain from Barcelona in 2017 and reportedly played a role in Roman Abramovich's takeover of Chelsea in 2003 and has represented stars including Robert Lewandowski and Rio Ferdinand.