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Football Leaks Money Trail The Profligate, Profitable World of Sports Agents

With massive amounts of money flowing into professional football, sports agents are making a killing. They cash in on colossal commissions and the money often ends up in tax havens like the British Virgin Islands. By SPIEGEL Staff

Mino Raiola, 49, drove Borussia Dortmund (BVB) crazy over the summer. The sports agent had once again achieved his objective, and when it comes to Raiola, that means he had pushed the team to the brink of despair. No matter what the club decided to do, there could be only one winner: Raiola.

At issue was Henrich Mchitarjan, an Armenian football player who wanted to leave Dortmund. Raiola had secured an offer from Manchester United in England's Premier League, where the big money can be found, but Mchitarjan's contract seemed to be presenting a problem. The midfielder was still bound to BVB for another year, and Dortmund Managing Director Hans-Joachim Watzke had said publicly several times that he wouldn't sell Mchitarjan -- not under any circumstances. End of discussion.

Raiola, a small, boisterous Italian with a protruding belly, didn't much care. He's been in the football business for over 20 years and has a client base that includes superstars like Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic, France's Paul Pogba and Italy's Mario Balotelli. Raiola has dealt with such illustrious figures as Silvio Berlusconi, the former owner of AC Milan, Florentino Pérez, the president of Real Madrid and Nasser al-Khelaifi, the Qatari investor behind Paris Saint-Germain.

Having done business with people at that level, he wasn't likely to take proclamations from executives like Watzke all that seriously.

Plus, Raiola was in possession of a wildcard the public could never have dreamed of -- a paper that can be found in the Football Leaks data trove. The document, dated March 1, 2014, is a three-page amendment to Raiola's agent contract that may ultimately have played a decisive role in the final stages of the negotiations.

It stipulates that not only would Raiola receive a share of the fee should Mchitarjan be transferred, he would also receive a fee if the player wasn't sold. It's the contractual version of thumb screws. Had Borussia Dortmund rejected the offer from Manchester and insisted that Mchitarjan fulfill the terms of his contract, BVB would have had to pay Raiola a compensation fee worth millions.

Check. Mate.

Watzke ultimately sold Mchitarjan for around 42 million euros. Raiola presumably received 2.5 million euros of that sum in addition to a commission from Manchester United. The fact that the midfielder since then has been doing little more than moving between the bench and the stadium bleachers is a different story.

Lots of Profits

Because this story focuses on the greed of agents, their business practices and their craving for fast and even dirty money. It's a scene in which the most brazen, and not necessarily the smartest, tend to prevail; it's a world of unbridled capitalism. The data from Football Leaks provides a deep look into this world of shadowy figures, puppet masters and soldiers of fortune, a place where relentlessness, speed and negotiating talent are the most important skills. It's a climate in which even top players, adored by millions of fans and fueled by millions of euros, are seen as little more than investments that need to generate profits. Lots of profits.

Players like Julian Draxler.

The German national team player, who first caught the world's eye at the European Championships this summer, is an extremely hot stock. That, at least, is the impression given by the contract negotiated by Roger Wittmann's agency in 2013 with Germany's FC Schalke 04.

Wittmann, who runs the agency Rogon, is one of Germany's most successful sports agents. The slick professional has been in the business for decades and is well networked internationally. A plumber by training, Wittmann has never obtained an agent's license. Last year, he repeatedly came under fire for placing a number of players simultaneously at clubs like FC Schalke 04, TSG Hoffenheim and VfL Wolfsburg, opening himself to accusations of having significant influence over the teams' decisions.

What is the EIC?

Finding stories and reporting them together, exchanging information and publishing texts simultaneously: That's the concept behind the European Investigative Collaborations (EIC) network. Since December 2015, 10 European media outlets have collaborated on investigative projects. In addition to DER SPIEGEL, this network includes: El Mundo (Spain), Falter (Austria), L'Espresso (Italy), Le Soir (Belgium), Mediapart (France), NRC Handelsblad (Netherlands), Newsweek Srbija (Serbia), Politiken (Denmark) and the platform RCIJ/The Black Sea (Romania). The network's first article, about the international trade in illegal weapons, appeared on March 19. For the research into Football Leaks, the network was joined by Expresso (Portugal) and The Sunday Times (UK). About 60 journalists were involved in the evaluation of the data, including editors, data and research experts, graphic designers, lawyers, IT specialists and translators.

In the case of Draxler, Wittmann's people showed just how tough they can be as negotiators. Draxler was only 19 at the time of his 2013 contract extension, but he had already captured the attention of many major clubs. The fact that his on-field performance fluctuated wildly between brilliance and ineptitude didn't appear to threaten the strong position held by Wittmann's company Rogon in negotiations with Schalke. There's no other explanation for the kind of contract the team ultimately signed.

The True Winner

In brief: In exchange for Draxler's contract extension, Schalke agreed to wire 1.2 million euros to Rogon, along with 450,000 euros for each subsequent season of the contract. After taxes, of course. Rogon also included a clause that Schalke would soon regret: In the event of a transfer, no matter when or to which team, the club had to pay a commission of 15 percent of the total transfer fee to Wittmann's agency. The team celebrated the extension anyway, acting as though they had won a title. They plastered images of Draxler, their new hope for the future, on a truck and even drove it through Dortmund, the home of their archrival. The message of the vainglorious stunt was clear: You may be the champions today, but we have the player who will make us the champions of tomorrow.

The true winner of the deal, as became clear two and a half years later, was Roger Wittmann's company. That's when the Draxler stock shot upwards.

On the final day of the transfer period in August 2015, Draxler was sent to VfL Wolfsburg for around 36 million euros. As a consequence of that deal, roughly 5.4 million euros found its way to Rogon's account. All in all, the company made around 7 million euros for the contract extension of a 19-year-old player. And for 28 months of speculation.

Preposterous? Nope. Just part of the daily lunacy that characterizes the world of football agents.

Billions in revenues are generated by professional football and one of its largest warts is the agent industry. For many players, contract negotiations are too stressful and the resulting documents too complicated -- and they often lack the contacts needed to approach other clubs or to find sponsors.

Foto: DER SPIEGEL

The article you are reading originally appeared in German in issue 50/2016 (December 10, 2016) of DER SPIEGEL.

Agents assume such responsibilities for them, often providing comprehensive services and even friendship -- at least what 18-year-old overnight-millionaires take for friendship. They buy mansions for their players, manage their wealth and answer their WhatsApp messages even late into the night. The closer the agents are to their investments, the less likely it is that a competitor will poach them away.

In the last five years, the fees paid to agents in Europe have doubled. In Germany and Britain alone, agents received more than 370 million euros from football clubs in 2015. There are 6,400 agents around the world, and together they are estimated to have earned around 1.5 billion euros in 2015 -- though if one adds unreported payments, it is likely much higher.

'Only Very Few Succeed'

The agent contracts in the Football Leaks data trove provide an overview of how creative, unscrupulous and money-grubbing they can be when it comes to securing their commissions.

The Rogon agency is a perfect example. According to the company's website, six managers work there, including Christian Rapp, a 38-year-old who is the director of Rogon's branch-office in Brazil. In an interview with Germany's Die Tageszeitung newspaper, he once described the player trade in the country as a "massacre of hopes." Many young players compete for contracts on professional teams, he said, "but only very few succeed." What Rapp didn't mention is that agents can earn a mint even on lesser talents. It's a story few would be better positioned to tell than he.

Among the Football Leaks data is a contract dating from April 28, 2014, between Benfica Lissabon, Portugal's top team, and Rogon. It was signed by Rapp and involved striker Kevin Friesenbichler.

Kevin who? In 2014, Kevin Friesenbichler, a striker from Austria who was 19 at the time, played on Bayern Munich's reserve team in Bavaria's regional league, testing his skills against obscure teams like TSV Buchbach and Bayern Hof. What did a Champions League participant like Benfica want with a player like that?

The answer is simple. Nothing.

That same summer, the Portuguese team loaned Friesenbichler to Lechia Gdansk. Two of Wittmann's close buddies were involved in the Polish club's business matters at the time.

Rogon received a net 1 million euros from Benfica for sending Friesenbichler their way. The leading Portuguese team also granted the agency a 50 percent commission on any future transfer involving Friesenbichler, minus the million already paid. For comparison, in 2013 Rogon received a fee of 1.2 million euros for arranging the transfer of Brazil national team player Luiz Gustavo in August 2013 from Bayern Munich to VfL Wolfsburg plus an annual commission of between 300,000 and 350,000 euros for the duration of Gustavo's five-year contract.

Is a Brazilian national team member at the peak of his career worth roughly the same as a striker in the Bavarian regional league? Is Benfica Lissabon just stupid? Or is there another story behind the money?

Russian Money on the Transfer Market

It's not clear. In the professional football industry, there is no supervisory body that takes a closer look at such numbers. There is no limit on transfer fees and there are no antitrust authorities that focus on agents. Tax auditors and investigators seldom stumble across the entrails of complicated, international deals. And even FIFA has given up. The global football association, whose mission includes regulating the sport, has left the certification of agents up to national football bodies since last year - a capitulation to an industry that practically anyone can join.

The more money that gets pumped into football -- as in England recently, where a TV contract now guarantees the clubs an additional 3 billion euros -- the more alluring the industry will become to speculators. Because clubs will do just about anything to land a good player, agent fees will continue to grow.

Take the example of Volker Struth.

Struth hails from the city of Cologne and is among Germany's elite agents. His company Sportstotal takes care of the business affairs of German national team players Marco Reus and Benedikt Höwedes. Until just a few months ago, Struth also served as Mario Götze's agent, but the two had a falling out and Götze is now represented by his father.

Struth, who once played semi-professional soccer himself, was able to handle the loss. Prior to becoming an agent, Struth sold office supplies and he made his first big money selling German flags during the 2006 World Cup in Germany. He then moved on to much bigger deals. In mid-October, some 2 million euros were due to his agency. The sender: Real Madrid.

And that was only the beginning, the first tranche of a commission that is supposed to grow to a total of 5 million euros by October 2018. The fee is a thank you gesture to Struth for persuading his protégé and German national team player Toni Kroos to reject much more lucrative offers from other top clubs and to instead pledge allegiance to the defending Champions League champion until 2022. Real Madrid simultaneously raised Kroos' annual base salary from 10,909,091 million to 14,545,455 million euros.

For an agent, landing a player like Kroos is akin to a defender firing in a goal from 30 meters out: It requires a bit of luck. For years, Kroos has been improving as a player, as has the money that can be earned from him.

Is 5 million euros an appropriate commission for a contract extension? Is it the market standard? Or is it absurd and tasteless?

Clubs and agents alike are keen to create the impression that these sums are business as usual -- as if they were normal, because they are now tolerated by all clubs.

Bayer Leverkusen is the most bizarre case in point.

Eleven Days of Work

The club keeps thorough records of its dealings with agents and requires them to provide documentation of the work they have done. A half-dozen documents can be found, some called "Elements of the Payment Agreement" and others named "Procuration Protocol." There are four-column tables in which the agent is required to note data like the date, subject, the manner and the results of their negotiating sessions with the club or the player.

Señor Eduardo Hernández Appelbaum, whose agency is based in San Antonio, Texas, filled out the paperwork extremely conscientiously. Appelbaum represents Javier Hernández Balcázar, better known as Chicharito, or little pea, and the paperwork he completed precisely lists the work he had done in negotiating the player's transfer from Manchester United to Bayer Leverkusen. Nine telephone calls, two emails and seven personal meetings with the player and with those responsible at both clubs are included in the records supplied by Appelbaum. If Chicharito continues playing for Bayer in the coming season, Applebaum's agency would be rewarded for his efforts with a fee totaling 1.5 million euros.

Not bad for 11 days of work.

The documentation collected by Leverkusen also shows that agents will stop at nobody, not even the manager of the German national team. Prior to the 2014 World Cup, national team coach Joachim Löw barred agents from access to the team's quarters at the Campo Bahia resort. He wanted the players to concentrate on the tournament.

Midfielder Christoph Kramer and his agent René vom Bruch found a solution. According to a "Procuration Protocol" from Oct. 15, 2014, the two "met in person next to Campo Bahia." Vom Bruch noted in the protocol that he spoke with Kramer about "the sporting situation and the contract situation" and informed the player that Leverkusen was interested in an early contract extension. At the time, Kramer was loaned out to Borussia Mönchengladbach. The outcome of the meeting, the agent noted, was that Kramer "would think about it."

The fact that the meeting took place three days before the semi-final match against Algeria didn't appear to bother the agent. Business is business and national team players generate higher fees.

Leverkusen winger Karim Bellarabi played his first game for the German national team in October 2014 and extended his contract with Leverkusen four months later. The work detailed by Bellarabi's agent, Konstantin Liolios, included 11 telephone calls, two emails, a letter and nine personal meetings, although two of them weren't really work. On one occasion, he drove to Leverkusen to sign his own contract with Bayer, and on another, he was present when Bellarabi signed his deal with the club.

Taking Care of Themselves

For his effort, the club wired Liolios' agency KL Sportsbase 3.5 million euros plus value-added tax in addition to 247,500 euros for the remainder of the 2014/2015 season as well as 495,000 for each additional season Bellarabi will play for Leverkusen. The player extended his contract until June 30, 2020. In addition, the agency gets 15 percent of the player's gross salary and bonuses. A crazy fee.

But it gets even crazier.

The biggest fees agents receive are for player transfers, such as the one that sent Gareth Bale from Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid for a record sum late in the summer of 2013. But fees are also exorbitant when seemingly unimportant clubs like Zenit St. Petersburg dip into the transfer market. The club, a Russian prestige project in President Vladimir Putin's hometown, is financed by Gazprom and rewards agents with absurdly high commissions for convincing players to play in the inferior Russian league.

In summer 2012, the club had its eye on Brazilian striker Givanildo Vieira de Sousa, better known by his nickname Hulk. On Sept. 2, 2012, the brawny player, who had previously played for FC Porto, signed a five-year contract with Zenit St. Petersburg.

Hulk's agents evidently also made sure to take care of themselves. That is apparent on each of the seven-pages of the bilingual agreement with Zenit St. Petersburg. Gary Stern, director of Hulk's agency For Gool, demanded 13 million euros net for his service, payable in three tranches. Added on top was 18 percent for Russian VAT, which adds up to an additional 2.34 million euros.

It is astronomical agreements like these that feed suspicions of irregularities and possible corruption on the transfer market.

Relative to the transfer fee of 55 million euros that Zenit allegedly paid to Hulk's former club FC Porto, the agent's cut -- at roughly 28 percent of the deal -- seems grotesquely inflated. Normally, agents get a share of between 7 and 15 percent.

British agent David Manasseh, of Stellar Group, earned a fee on the upper end of this range for arranging the transfer of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid just over three years ago. Team President Florentino Pérez had branded the deal involving the Welsh striker as the transfer of the year, and his willingness to pay top-money was correspondingly great. In the end, Bale's transfer cost Real 101 million euros, though the fee had to remain secret so that Cristiano Ronaldo, whose transfer had been Real's previous record, wouldn't be offended. Bale's agency received 16,373,000 euros, payable in three tranches by Sept. 15, 2015.

A Rich Man

In summer 2013, when Gareth Bale arrived in Madrid, Real was also interested in acquiring Ilkay Gündogan, but the club Borussia Dortmund (BVB) refused to sell. Instead, the star player extended his contract with Borussia one year later in a deal that also made his father Irfan, who is Gündogan's agent, a rich man.

Irfan Gündogan earned two annual payments of 400,000 euros for the negotiations for, "among other services, the agent's continuous promotion on behalf of BVB with the player," as it is described in the April 15, 2014, deal that Borussia Managing Director Watzke signed for the club.

On paragraph three of the document, Irfan Gündogan also ensured that he would receive a share of any future transfer fee should his son be sent to another team prior to the end of his contract.

The contract included a "sample calculation" based on a fictional "transfer compensation" of 30 million euros. The model called for a "single gross payout" of 3.15 million euros for Gündogan's father.

Ultimately, that is almost exactly what happened. In June of this year, Ilkay Gündogan transferred to Manchester City for around 30 million euros, which, according to the contract, translates to almost 4 million euros owed by BVB to Gündogan's father.

It is unclear whether the money was actually paid. Prior to transferring to Manchester, Gündogan's contract was once again extended.

Neither the clubs nor the agents this article has mentioned to this point provided comment on the deals. Many didn't respond to queries at all while others simply mentioned the confidentiality they were obligated to uphold.

In industries where people earn so much money so fast, interactions are not always pleasant. Casting aspersion on the competition, defamation and the spreading of indefensible rumors are among the tools relied upon. There are feuds among agents that are reminiscent of schoolyard brawls -- and usually they have to do with accusations of unjust enrichment.

The Netherlands-BVI Connection

Many agents, for example, accuse their Swiss colleague Giacomo Petralito of having made a conspicuous number of deals in recent years with Klaus Allofs, the former general manager of Werder Bremen and current managing director of VfL Wolfsburg. Petralito's reputation, to put it mildly, is in tatters as a result and Allofs has been accused of unnecessarily granting his long-time confidant Petralito too many assignments. Petralito has denied the accusations, as has Allofs. But the VfL supervisory board has since forbidden Allofs from doing business with the agent from Switzerland.

A contract can be found in the Football Leaks documents, however, that raises doubts about Allofs' business conduct. The paper is from Oct. 27, 2009, a time when Allofs was still general manager of Werder Bremen. The two-page, English-language document to which Allofs is a signatory pertains to a maximum 600,000-euro fee that the agents for Naldo stood to receive for the Brazilian player's contract extension.

But why did the agreement reference "agents," in plural?

Naldo transferred to Bremen in summer 2005 and his agent was fellow Brazilian Paulo Fernando Tonietto. When Naldo ultimately transferred to VfL Wolfsburg in July 2012, only Tonietto was involved.

In the "Agreement of Fees" attached to Naldo's 2009 contract extension, though, two additional agents are mentioned who allegedly contributed to the deal: one from Serbia and another from Montenegro, both "licensed agents," according to the document.

Strange.

Even stranger, though, is that their company, Tumod Ventures Ltd., is based in Road Town, the capital of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. It doesn't have a real address, just a postbox: "Trident Chambers - PO box 146."

The three letters BVI, the abbreviation for the Caribbean island chain, are synonymous with "tax haven." Foreign companies headquartered in the British Virgin Islands must neither disclose their owners and beneficiaries nor pay corporate taxes. It's a black hole for European auditors and tax investigators.

Why, then, did Klaus Allofs sign such a contract? In whose pockets did the 450,000 euros the deal cost Werder Bremen according to the contract actually end up? Might there have been kick-backs involved?

Allofs declined comment on the deal. When queried by SPIEGEL, Werder Bremen initially had difficulties reconstructing the transaction and, after two days, asked for "understanding that a relevant in-house inquiry likewise requires a bit of time." One day later, the team said no comment would be forthcoming. Naldo's agent replied that he had asked that one of the two agents be commissioned due to his "notable expertise." Tonietto also claims that he properly paid taxes on the money he received, but that he of course couldn't vouch for his "occasional partners," the agents from the Balkans with a company based in BVI.

A Void in the World of Football

Hundreds of documents from the Football Leaks trove show that doing business with agents who use "Trident Chambers - PO box 146" in Road Town on the island of Tortola as their address is not far away from cooperating with the football underworld. Because the exact location where Klaus Allofs' contract partners have registered their agency is also where the agency Paros Consulting Limited has its postbox -- a void in the globalized world of football.

Paros Consulting specializes in South American football professionals, having represented or still representing players like James Rodríguez of Real Madrid, Gonzalo Higuaín of Juventus Turin and Ángel di María of Paris Saint-Germain. But the company's name appears nowhere in agent contracts signed with football clubs. Instead, agents from Europe, to whom Paros has signed over negotiating rights in secret contracts, sign on the company's behalf.

The Paros straw men, most of whom come from the Netherlands, operate independently under their own names and issue their own invoices. The opulent agent fees that the clubs pay once the contracts are signed are initially wired to these straw men. Only then is the money divvied up among the accomplices. The straw men in Holland hold on to a tiny portion -- between 5 and 7.5 percent, depending on their written agreements with Paros Consulting, while the remaining 90-plus percent is wired to one of the European accounts belonging to Paros Consulting. One of the banks used by the company is in London, another is in Lisbon and a third is with Volksbank in the village of Schaan, Liechtenstein.

What then happens with the millions that are thus diverted from the international football industry and into Paros Consulting accounts year after year isn't entirely clear. Obfuscation and opacity are key elements of the company's operating principles.

One thing, though, is clear: It is a perfect method for assuring that net revenues are as close as possible to gross payments. The Paros helpers in the Netherlands declare at most their single-digit commission percentages as revenue. The over 90 percent of the agency fees that are sent onwards apparently end up untaxed in Paros Consulting's European accounts.

The Football Leaks documents expose several South American businessmen as key figures in Paros Consulting Ltd. One of them is apparently the Argentinian agent Marcelo Simonian. His agency Dodici is based in Buenos Aires and he is a major player in the football scene of his home country.

Just a Façade

Another Paros participant is Omar Walter Crocitta, who also hails from Argentina. A former professional football player, Crocitta is a legal representative of Paros and signs as a lawyer -- and he is identified in the documents as the sole owner of the Panama-based agency Merham Limited. The company operates with the same Dutch straw men.

The Paros connection is careful to maintain secrecy and almost all emails are encrypted. Now, though, the network has been exposed: The Football Leaks documents provide a detailed look at how, and with whose help, the company obtains its millions.

The case of James Rodríguez, the Colombian national team player who was the top goal scorer at the 2014 World Cup and who has since played for Real Madrid, is a perfect example. One year prior to the World Cup, Rodríguez was sold by FC Porto to AS Monaco for 45 million euros. At the time, the Dutch agency Orel B.V. officially held 10 percent of his transfer rights.

But Orel was just a façade for the deal. The real owners of the 10-percent share were on the British Virgin Islands. That became clear a few months after the Rodríguez transfer when Paros Consulting demanded its share. The offshore firm sent an invoice for 4,121,185 euros and 13 cents to Orel, payable to the Paros account at Volksbank in Liechtenstein. Purpose of payment: "Transaction Porto Futebol Club - Orel B.V. connected to the football player J. Rodríguez."

One of the executives of Orel is agent Martijn Odems, who obtained his license from the Royal Dutch Football Association. Orel often helped out when Paros Consulting needed willing helpers for deals in Europe -- for example with the 2011 transfer of Argentinian mid-fielder Ricardo Álvarez to Inter Milan; the 2014 transfer of Argentinian player Fabián Rinaudo to Catania Calcio; and the 2015 transfer of Argentinian player Ezequiel Ponce to AS Roma. Around 2 million euros flowed to Paros Consulting via Orel in those deals.

Graphic: Dutch Straw Men

Graphic: Dutch Straw Men

Foto: DER SPIEGEL

Odems also intermittently served as director of a company called Kunse International N.V., which had its headquarters in the same building and on the same floor as his agency Orel. Kunse served as the façade in an additional mega-deal involving Argentinian national team player Ángel Di María, a superstar who was the second-most important player on the team during the 2014 World Cup behind Lionel Messi.

On Aug. 14, 2014, Kunse signed a contract with Paros. It guaranteed Kunse the right to transfer Di María from Real Madrid to Manchester United -- for a 7.5 percent share of the agency fee.

A Well-Oiled Money-Printing Machine

The transfer was finalized a few days later. On Oct. 31, 2014, Manchester wired 2 million euros to Kunse in the Netherlands. The straw men kept 150,000 euros, with the remaining 1.85 million euros for the Di María transfer flowing quietly onward to an account belonging to Paros Consulting at Bank Leumi in London.

Paros also had Argentinian national team player Gonzalo Higuaín in its portfolio when the striker still played for Real Madrid. Paros had transferred negotiating rights to a company named Convergence Capital Partners, which received a fee of at least 200,000 euros from Real Madrid for its services. The straw men were allowed to keep 10,000 euros, with the remaining 190,000 euros sent onwards to the Paros account with Volksbank in Liechtenstein.

The Argentina-Netherlands connection functioned for years like a well-oiled money-printing machine. According to the Football Leaks documents, the South American puppet masters use half-a-dozen player agencies in and around Amsterdam as a façade.

One of the straw men was Marco Temes, a writer who lives not far from Amsterdam. He has written eight novels in addition to short stories, three volumes of poetry and thousands of aphorisms.

At the end of 2008, when he was having trouble with his writing, Termes changed careers after a friend approached him. Termes became the director of two football player agencies, one of which was registered to his private address and the other to an apartment in a public housing complex.

They were shell companies. In truth, Termes only became active on the instructions of a trust, at which point he flew to Southern Europe with the contracts of South American players, had them signed by club directors and then returned to Holland.

Termes hardly ever saw the prominent professional players that he allegedly represented. At the end of 2013, the novelist pulled out of this bizarre parallel world. "I was a goldfish in a tank full of piranhas," he told the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad, which uncovered his role in the deals. He declined, however, to be specific about names and the amounts of money involved. They are "confidential," he said, adding that he has "already said way too much."

Documents of Greed

None of the Dutch companies that, according to the Football Leaks documents, apparently skirted European tax law by way of this triangular agreement with Paros Consulting agreed to comment on these allegations. Martijn Odems, head of Orel B.V. and, according to the documents, one of the most active straw men, likewise declined to comment. SPIEGEL had an extensive list of questions about the money flows hand delivered to the Argentinian Omar Walter Crocitta, who acted as a legal representative of Paros, in front of his private home in the Buenos Aires Province. But he too didn't answer.

The only response came from Marcelo Simonian, the man who is revealed in dozens of encrypted emails found in the Football Leaks documents to be one of those behind the Paros Consulting deals. When asked about Paros, though, he declined ever having heard of the company. Mentioning his name in connection with tax evasion and with this company in BVI is "a scandal," he said on the phone. He also claimed never to have heard of Orel. "I am the biggest tax payer in the world of Argentinian football," Simonian claimed. "I pay all of my taxes. Are you paying for this call? I am very poor because of all the taxes I have to pay!"

The straw-man principle used by Paros Consulting to collect millions in tax-free agency fees in its European accounts has thus far worked so well in part because the clubs themselves play along. It is, of course, possible that the clubs are blameless: After all, they wired the fees to Dutch agents that sat at the table during negotiations. The bank accounts were in the Netherlands and everything seemed on the up-and-up.

But some of the clubs certainly had an inkling that the money ultimately ended up in offshore tax havens. That much can be gleaned from an email that the general director of FC Sevilla sent to the team's legal counsel in October 2014.

The club had been offered a player via Dutch straw men working on behalf of an offshore company. The general director wrote: "I have a bad feeling about this." In explanation, he wrote that the company behind the Dutch agents was based "in a tax haven." He was concerned, he went on, that Spanish tax authorities could ask uncomfortable questions regarding money laundering should they follow the money trail.

The FC Sevilla legal counsel ultimately wrote to the lawyer representing the Dutch straw men that his club "neither feels comfortable nor can we accept the payment by a Dutch firm to a corporation based in countries without without taxation transparency."

It is one of the few documents of decency among thousands of documents of greed.

By Rafael Buschmann, Jürgen Dahlkamp, Stephan Heffner, Christoph Henrichs, Andreas Meyhoff, Nicola Naber, Jörg Schmitt, Alfred Weinzierl and Michael Wulzinger

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