Questions have been raised over the ownership of English Championship football club Wigan Athletic after it was placed into administration just a month after being sold from one Hong Kong company to the other.
In what has been described by one local MP as a “major global scandal,” Wigan’s fate now sits in the hands of administrators after Hong Kong-listed International Entertainment Corp (IEC), which first purchased the club in November 2018, offloaded it to another Hong Kong company called Next Leader Fund (NLF) in early June.
What is notable about that deal is the fact that both companies were majority owned by well-known high stakes poker player Stanley Choi at the time of sale. Choi holds a 56% stake in IEC, of which he is Chairman, and held 51% of NLF, itself only established in January of this year.
IEC operates New Coast Hotel Manila in the Philippines where it leases casino and related gaming equipment to PAGCOR. The company recently announced it is applying for a provisional license from PAGCOR to develop the property into an integrated resort.
IEC also holds the rights to operate land-based live events and poker rooms under the branding of PokerStars in Macau, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia and Cambodia.
According to a weekend report by Fox Sports, investigations are now underway in England into details of the club’s sale, including suggestions NLF paid more than £46 million – comprising £17.5 million for the club itself and another £28.8 million to cover a loan IEC had earlier provided it – despite Wigan having lost around £9.2 million in the previous financial year.
Complicating the saga are suggestions the decision to place Wigan into administration may be linked to a large bet that the club would be relegated this season by finishing in the bottom three. According to the Fox Sports report, placing the club into administration would see it handed a 12-point deduction on the English Championship table as per English Football League rules, thus almost guaranteeing relegation.
Wigan was placed into administration just days after Au Yeung Wai Kay, who originally held 49% of NLF, increased his stake to 75%. Au Yeung is reported to have had little contact with Wigan and little is known about his background.
Gerald Krasner, one of the three administrators appointed to oversee the club, told Fox Sports, “Every administration I have been involved in had its peculiarities, but this is a first. Four weeks (from sale to administration) is a record that will stand for some time.
“We are aware of concerns that have been raised. The investigation won’t go away. It will be done. Once I know we have saved the club and got nondisclosure letters out [to prospective buyers] – we’re talking about two weeks – we will sit down with our lawyers to see if there is any litigation there that will be for the benefit of the creditors.
“There will be a lot of incredible things that come out when we get into the paperwork.”
According to Fox Sports, NLF has already stated it will not provide any further funding to Wigan.