Birmingham City owner in money-laundering charges

Carson Yeung's rise from poverty in Hong Kong to millionaire Birmingham City owner is as fascinating as it is mysterious, but money-laundering charges have put him under fresh scrutiny.

Updated: June 30, 2011 19:54 IST
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Hong Kong: Carson Yeung's rise from poverty in Hong Kong to millionaire Birmingham City owner is as fascinating as it is mysterious, but money-laundering charges have put him under fresh scrutiny.

The 51-year-old Yeung, who cuts a dapper figure in designer clothes and smartly cropped black hair, often accompanied by his glamorous young wife, was so poor as a child that he could not afford to go to football games.

But Yeung, who reportedly trained as a hairdresser before making a fortune in penny stocks, paid 81 million pounds ($130 million) to take over Birmingham in 2009, amid a rush of Asian investment into the English Premier League.

"I have loved football since I was a child. My family were very poor and we didn't have any money to see the football games, but I loved the sport," he told Birmingham City's website,, in 2007.

"I think football should be for everybody, not just the rich man."

On Thursday, a sombre-looking Yeung appeared in a Hong Kong court, a day after his arrest by narcotics police on charges of "dealing with property known or believed to represent proceeds of an indictable offence".

Despite winning this year's League Cup, Birmingham have struggled with debts and in May, Yeung's Birmingham International Holdings raised extra cash through a share issue which diluted his stake to 23.3 percent.

But the club's plight worsened when they were relegated from the lucrative Premier League on the last day of the season, and later lost their manager Alex McLeish.

Forbes Asia magazine has questioned the finances behind Birmingham, claiming Yeung was evasive about his business interests and was borrowing money against property he owns to help meet club liabilities.

In 2009, not long after his takeover, a senior Birmingham official denied Yeung was a "front man" when a portion of his stake was bought by two companies registered in the British Virgin Islands, according to British media.

Asked last year if he was "filthy rich", Yeung, who has a teenage son named Ryan - after Manchester United's Ryan Giggs - was unfazed.

"I’m rich enough to have a company that buys a football club for 81 million pounds. And to buy a house in London, my second home," he said, during a rare interview.

Yeung has maintained a low profile even after he emerged from obscurity in July 2007 to seize a 30 percent stake in Birmingham City, and announced his intention to take over the club.

His name had first appeared on the Hong Kong stock exchange's record books just a month earlier, when he bought a 16.67 percent stake in clothes company Grandtop International.

Media reports described how Yeung made his first fortune on cheap stocks, then increased his earnings by co-founding Greek Mythology, a casino in Asian gambling haven Macau, in 2004.

Other interests include Hong Kong's Sing Pao newspaper and investments in "energy, water, property, a range of businesses", according to the tycoon.

Yeung was formerly chairman of Hong Kong's Rangers Football Club but was criticised by ex-coach Tim Bredbury who accused him of interfering in the selection of players.

In 2004, he was prosecuted by Hong Kong's financial regulator for failing to disclose his holdings in a company, but was only ordered to pay a small fine.

Yeung says it was for the love of football - as well as the enormous market potential in China - that he decided to buy into Birmingham City.

"The people in China are crazy about the English Premier League. There is a massive market out there. I want to take the name of Birmingham City to a worldwide audience," Yeung told

Last year Yeung sent the team on a tour of Hong Kong and China, in a trip whose itinerary and conditions reportedly prompted much grumbling among players.

In January, Birmingham International Holdings announced plans to pay Yeung up to $200 million for a plot of industrial land in northeastern China, with the aim of developing a British-themed community.

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