‘Minted? He didn’t have any money’ – Sheffield United ownership saga reaches High Court
A ‘shabby and shameful’ scheme was cooked up by one of Sheffield United’s co-owners in a bid to remove the other from the picture, it has been claimed.
The High Court in London yesterday heard the first day of five weeks of legal argument into the long-running ownership dispute between former chairman Kevin McCabe and HRH Prince Abdullah Bin Mosaad Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.
Prince Abdullah was first approached by McCabe in 2012 after the McCabe family – who had by then put £70m into the club – wanted to find a way of reducing the cash burden it was placing on them.
The assumption was that – as a Saudi Prince – Prince Abdullah was ‘minted’, the court heard.
The relationship broke down, however, after McCabe became frustrated Prince Abdullah didn’t have the funds he claimed to.
Opening his client’s case, Paul Downes QC for McCabe said the Prince simply ‘didn’t have any money’.
“Far from being ‘minted’, Prince Abdullah couldn’t even come up with a piffling £500,000 to pay staff wages,” he said.
“There is no way they would have done this deal if they had known Prince Abdullah was a man of straw.”
The court head how the Kevin McCabe and Prince Abdullah’s relationship had started ‘optimistically’, but eventually became ‘dysfunctional and acrimonious’.
Mr Downes said both sides had entered into it believing that they had found a marriage that could work and in August 2013 signed an agreement to split the club fifty fifty.
By 2017, however, a large discrepancy between the amounts the supposedly equal partners were putting into the club developed with Mr McCabe having to dip into his own pocket to see the club through.
This left the club with only enough cash left for a month and a half and that without more money from McCabe was facing ‘permanent demise’, it was claimed.
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When they were first looking investors, the club’s owners had separated it from its property interests to make it more attractive to a potential buyer.
A key element of the deal struck between the two men, however, was that should either party’s shareholding reach 75 per cent, the two parts of the club would be reunified.
Mr Downes said McCabe trusted Prince Abdullah to honour this agreement in good faith.
“More fool us”, he added.
Mr McCabe and his legal team’s argument hinges on their belief Prince Abdullah’s scheme to avoid this requirement by moving his shares to a newly-created company was illegitimate.
Prince Abdullah and his legal team counter that McCabe had ‘overstepped the mark’ by interfering in the club, found it difficult to accept criticism and could be ‘overbearing and aggressive’.
Mr Downes acknowledged his client was no saint, but said Prince Abdullah was well aware of what he was getting involved in.
He said: “Is Mr McCabe perfect? No, because he is passionate about Sheffield United. But he never set out to force his partner out of the way like Prince Abdullah did. His approach was to try to work with them to reach agreement.
“The scheme Prince Abdullah came up with to park some shares so they could say they hadn't acquired 75 per cent was shabby and shameful.
“If he didn’t have enough money to buy Mr McCabe out he could have acted in good faith and they could have started again. Instead he decided to get the scheme through before anyone had realised what was happening.”
The case continues.