Birmingham City Owner Carson Yeung Sentenced to 6 Years in Prison

Rob Blanchette@@_Rob_BFeatured ColumnistMarch 7, 2014

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - AUGUST 14:  Birmingham City's owner Carson Yeung looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Birmingham City at the Stadium of Light on August 14, 2010 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

Controversial owner of Birmingham City Carson Yeung has been sentenced to a six-year jail sentence after his money laundering case in Hong Kong was concluded.

The news was confirmed on early Friday morning by Sky Sports' chief news reporter Bryan Swanson via Twitter:

BBC News quoted Judge Douglas saying the following upon delivering his sentence:

"Maintaining the integrity of the banking system is of paramount importance if Hong Kong is to remain an international finance centre," he said.

Adam Shergold of the Mail Online had previously confirmed that Yeung had been found guilty of five counts of money laundering.

Shergold reported that Judge Douglas Yau had said of the disgraced owner: "I find the defendant not a witness of truth. I find that he is someone who is prepared to, and did try to, lie whenever he saw the need to do so."

Yeung had denied laundering £55.4million through his bank account between 2001 and 2007, per Shergold's article.

The 54-year-old businessman bought into Birmingham City in 2007 and acquired the rest in 2009, per Sky Sports.

However, he resigned from the parent company—Hong Kong-listed Birmingham International Holdings Ltd (BIHL)—while he awaited the verdict of his case.

Vincent Yu/Associated Press

Birmingham's acting chairman Peter Pannu issued the following statement on Monday in reaction to the criminal conviction, via the club's website:

I regret to inform all supporters and staff of our beloved club that Birmingham City F.C's former president and benefactor, Carson Yeung, was today convicted of all charges he faced following a protracted period of legal proceedings.
I'd like to reassure all supporters and staff that today's verdict will have no impact on the day-to-day operations at the football club. 

The story of Yeung's integration and eventual exit from English football throws into doubt the process for buying clubs in the top divisions. The influx of foreign owners has been rife over the past 20 years, and is regulated by the FA. 

But as media presenter Richard Keys says, this process must surely be questionable. He tweeted:

Sky Sports reported that Yeung's defence lawyer had told the judge that the Birmingham owner, who built a business empire that included hair salons, fertiliser and real estate, "came from rags to riches, and he's likely to return to rags."

His lawyer pleaded for a light sentence and said there had been "no subterfuge" in Yeung's business dealings as the accounts in question were held in his own name and his father's name. Yeung's team and the prosecution painted very different pictures of how the tycoon made his money, during the trial.

The prosecution said the huge sums of money passed through five accounts from "unknown parties without any apparent reason." Yeung insists he accumulated his millions through stock trading, hair salons, business ventures in mainland China and investing in casinos in Macau.

HONG KONG, CHINA - JULY 18:  Hong Kong billonaire Carson Yeung, owner of Birmingham City sits on the bench before the Xtep Cup against Hong Kong League XI as part of Birmingham City's China pre-season tour at the Hong Kong stadium on July 18, 2010 in Hong
Victor Fraile/Getty Images

Yeung is part of an army of wealthy businessmen who have tried to get a foothold in the game in England in order to gain access to the amazing revenue streams available in the sport. With billions of pounds on offer from TV money to club sponsorship, the size of the prize is too tempting for those that can afford the gamble.

The FA has always had the "fit and proper person" test in place for many years, but Yeung's case is proof that the current examination does not act as full protection for Premier League or Football League clubs.

The case now leaves the future of Birmingham City in doubt despite the reassurances of the acting chairman.

It is once again a warning to clubs who try and attract investment from abroad. The process of doing this needs to be more stringent to protect some of the oldest and most famous teams from England.