Soccer Leaks: Zahavi and the World of Soccer Brokers

Football agent Pini Zahavi and Bayern Munich player Robert Lewandowski

November 09, 2018 
06:00 PM

It was 1 p.m. on June 10, 2018, and Maik Barthel was sitting within the foyer of the Ritz-Carlton lodge in Vienna. The longtime confidant and agent of striker Robert Lewandowski, Barthel was ready for a person recognized to most individuals all over the world merely as “Pini.” The 2 needed to discuss.

Pinhas Zahavi, 76, is a heavyweight on the planet {of professional} soccer. In a uncommon profile within the British weekly The Observer, Zahavi was as soon as known as soccer’s “first and solely super-agent.” However for Barthel, the person had introduced a big drawback for weeks as a result of his high consumer, Lewandowski, had engaged Zahavi’s providers.

The Israeli agent and the Polish striker had cast a plan. It foresaw Zahavi, a ruthless negotiator, utilizing no matter means essential to free Lewandowski this summer season from his contract with Bayern Munich, which was to run till June 2021. Lewandowski was keen to go away Munich, with Actual Madrid being his most popular vacation spot. And Zahavi was to use the requisite stress on the group. He’s a specialist for such circumstances.

The yr earlier than, Zahavi had performed a substantial position in orchestrating Brazilian striker Neymar’s departure from FC Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), although Neymar’s contract with the Catalonians had simply been prolonged to June 2022. An exit clause with a set switch charge of 222 million euros made the switch attainable. PSG paid the charge, permitting Neymar to make the transfer.

Lewandowski’s contract, nevertheless, does not comprise such a clause, and that was Zahavi’s drawback. He wanted Barthel on his facet. On the assembly in Vienna, the Israeli first tried a appeal offensive. He organized for a automotive to take him and Barthel to Ernst Happel Stadium to observe Austria play in opposition to Brazil, the South American group’s closing warm-up forward of the World Cup in Russia. Neymar was doing his magic down on the pitch, whereas his father watched from the gallery above. Neymar’s dad had additionally earned a number of million from his son’s switch to Paris — partially due to Zahavi’s aggressive negotiating model. However Barthel was not persuaded. He mentioned Bayern Munich would refuse to permit itself to be blackmailed by any participant. Even its finest.

Switch Hype

After the assembly in Vienna, Zahavi acquired in contact once more, however his tone had turn into extra impudent. He despatched Barthel a number of textual content messages berating him for having failed to barter a set launch charge for Lewandowski when he transferred from Dortmund to Munich in summer season 2014 and through his final contract renewal with FC Bayern.

“Robert was and can b the most effective striker on the planet,” Zahavi wrote in a textual content message, “however he doesn’t perceive the soccer enterprise. I m certain that in the present day it could possibly be totally different.”

“I see this in a different way!” Barthel responded. It was “inconceivable” that FC Bayern would ever comply with a “purchase out.”

The switch hype that Zahavi had stirred up within the Bundesliga, Germany’s high league, by means of focused public statements had led to nothing. The powers that be at Bayern Munich weren’t open to negotiating. However Zahavi did not surrender. He and Lewandowski agreed to work collectively sooner or later.

Who is that this man who spent weeks infuriating Bayern executives? Over the course of 40 years, Zahavi has perfected the artwork of positioning extremely paid soccer gamers in opposition to their colleagues, trainers or membership bosses. And when issues finally turn into untenable with an outdated employer, Zahavi is there to pave the participant’s option to a brand new membership, one that’s glad to resolve all the issues he has conjured up with cash. It’s a technique that has made him a multimillionaire.

Zahavi is aware of find out how to get his message out to the general public. In Lewandowski’s case, he turned to the German sports activities tabloid Sport Bild. “Robert looks like he wants a change and a brand new problem in his profession,” Zahavi advised the paper in late Could. “Officers at FC Bayern are conscious of this.” The story made the entrance web page. With that, the hearth had been set.

Zahavi has been in enterprise longer than every other high soccer agent on the planet, having made his first participant switch deal within the late 1970s. His proximity to billionaire membership homeowners in Russia, the Arab world and Central Europe is simply as legendary as his ruthlessness when there is a juicy fee inside attain. He has additionally performed a job in membership acquisitions, funding offers — and controversial negotiations involving underage expertise.

Becoming a member of Forces

His community is as huge and sophisticated because the agent himself is invisible. He’s a phantom, a person who turns down nearly each interview request. The final main profile of him appeared 12 years in the past. And even then, it wasn’t clear simply how a lot cash Zahavi was transferring round or which channels his revenue was flowing by means of.


Paperwork from the whistleblowing platform Soccer Leaks, which embrace Barthel’s textual content messages, present a deep look into the world of one of many sport’s greatest energy brokers. The trove of data reveals that firms Zahavi owns, or these for which he works, are sometimes situated in tax havens. They’re based mostly in Gibraltar, Malta, Cyprus and the British Virgin Islands within the Caribbean. He additionally as soon as owned an organization in Luxembourg.

For his offers, Zahavi typically joins forces with different business giants just like the English-Iranian dealer Kia Joorabchian, Portuguese agent Jorge Mendes or Fali Ramadani of Macedonia, who gives him with entry to the soccer market in southeastern Europe. Zahavi has himself written that he’s primarily lively in South America and England. He engages legislation corporations in Brazil and Israel to offer him authorized assist. They’ve loads of work to do.

DER SPIEGEL and the journalism community European Investigative Collaborations (EIC) reported two years in the past on the sordid world of participant brokers. It turned clear on the time that lots of them have been funneling their charges by means of darkish channels to firms that had two issues in frequent: headquarters in a tax haven and an opaque possession construction.

Zahavi is a little bit of an anomaly on this universe. Whereas different brokers have giant assist staffs, the Israeli is a one-man-show. He is a person of the basic handshake deal. However as quickly as he’s requested uncomfortable questions on his enterprise practices, he is not against issuing unbridled threats.

The hundreds of thousands of euros that Zahavi strikes round have piqued the curiosity of authorized and tax authorities in Europe. By no means as soon as has any criminality been confirmed. The Soccer Leaks paperwork present there was one significantly cussed investigator on the tax fraud and offshore division of Her Majesty’s Income & Customs (HMRC) workplace in Britain. The official spent a number of years combing by means of offers Zahavi had put collectively within the Premier League.

Based on the paperwork, the investigation had primarily centered on Zahavi’s private taxes of round 12.5 million British kilos (14.Three million euros) and company taxes of practically 5 million. However the investigation was closed in April 2017, which is outstanding. As Zahavi himself has written, he lives in London greater than half the yr. In England, the tax charge for high earners is 45 %. Zahavi would usually must pay the taxes on all his income streams all over the world to HMRC.


He does not must, although, due to a bilateral taxation settlement between Britain and Israel. Zahavi has an house in Tel Aviv that he visits solely sporadically, however the provision permits a taxpayer to pay his or her dues within the nation that represents the “middle of important pursuits.” In Zahavi’s case, that is Israel; the authorities there have confirmed as a lot.

The precise facilities of his companies, nevertheless, are removed from Israel. They’re in locations like Gibraltar. There, just some blocks from a yacht-filled marina, are the workplaces of a belief and a providers firm named Finsbury. It is a entrance for a number of firms. One is named Gol Worldwide, one other Gol Soccer. Each are registered in Gibraltar. A 3rd firm was known as Gol Luxembourg, which was once situated within the Grand Duchy. Zahavi says this firm now not exists.

The New Soccer Leaks Revelations

The ability dealer from Tel Aviv likes to be discreet. He even hides his firm community from his enterprise companions, as one consumer, the German soccer group Werder Bremen, found.

In summer season 2012, the group negotiated a contract with Gol Luxembourg based on which the corporate obtained 300,000 euros for Zahavi’s providers in facilitating the mortgage of Kevin De Bruyne from FC Chelsea to Werder Bremen. But it surely was solely two staff of Zahavi’s firm in Luxembourg who signed the contract and the bill for the primary installment.

For months, Werder refused to wire the primary 100,000 euros. The membership wished to know who was receiving the cash. The cash was solely paid after Finsbury Belief gave in and defined Gol’s company construction to the Werder bean counters along with revealing that Zahavi was the proprietor.

As was typical for Zahavi, Werder Bremen transferred his charge to an account in Switzerland. That is the place his firms have their enterprise accounts, on the St. Galler Kantonalbank and at Hyposwiss Non-public Financial institution in Zurich. Gol maintains accounts within the three most essential currencies: kilos, {dollars} and euros.

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Probably the most spectacular deal Zahavi has up to now made in his life got here in the summertime of final yr. On July 23, 2017, 10 days earlier than Neymar’s switch to Paris Saint-Germain, the membership bosses in France realized that Zahavi can be sitting subsequent to the participant’s father as a second agent on the negotiating desk.

Based on his agent contract, he’s to obtain 10.7 million euros by early 2022. If Neymar extends his contract by a yr to 2023, Zahavi will obtain one other 2 million euros on high of that.

‘Large Mistake’

When it got here to cost, although, Zahavi and the membership didn’t see eye-to-eye. As he had executed with Werder Bremen, Zahavi proposed that his charge be paid by means of one in every of his firms with an account in Switzerland. However Paris Saint-Germain had reservations.

Zahavi gave in, abruptly eager to be paid by means of an organization in Cyprus, which additionally belonged to him. Its identify: Grebere Consulting Restricted, registered in Limassol and based in 2014. Zahavi despatched the soccer membership’s managers confidential firm paperwork, however PSG’s monetary advisers have been nonetheless suspicious. They considered Cyprus as a tax haven and mentioned the “substance of this firm is questionable.” In different phrases, they believed Grebere Consulting was nothing greater than a shell firm.

Zahavi denied it. In an offended e-mail, he criticized PSG’s director basic, Jean-Claude Blanc, saying it had been a “large mistake” to ship the membership confidential paperwork. He insisted on receiving the cash by means of Cyprus. However the membership caught to its laborious line. Finally, Zahavi signed the “Sports activities Company Remuneration Settlement” as a non-public particular person, itemizing his deal with in Tel Aviv. Zahavi says the cash was paid into a private account and was taxed in Israel. Zahavi felt insulted by the therapy and he let PSG executives find out about it.

Zahavi continuously has two, generally three cellphones that he actively makes use of. Moreover a bank card, they’re actually all of the agent must work whereas flying between continents.

Such strategies, nevertheless, aren’t all the time conducive to thorough bookkeeping. When British tax inspector Mark H. was trying to trace the million-dollar funds to Zahavi from the Premier League, he demanded that Manchester Metropolis hand over paperwork outlining the transfers of assorted gamers. “What was Zahavi’s position?” he requested in a letter.

The membership had difficulties discovering all of the paperwork. At one level, they have been making an attempt to find documentation for charges paid in relation to Robinho’s switch. “We … would not have entry to copies of all correspondence,” Man Metropolis’s chief monetary officer responded. The deal had been made “whereas the membership was being taken over by Abu Dhabi.” He continued: “You might be conscious that this isn’t unusual throughout the business {that a} vital proportion of offers are carried out over the telephone and aren’t formally famous.”

Affect and Contacts

Zahavi’s London-based lawyer heard one thing equally nebulous from Jorge Mendes in June 2014. The Portuguese nationwide represents gamers like Cristiano Ronaldo and is, like Zahavi, a significant participant on the planet of soccer brokers. Each males have labored collectively earlier than to push by means of vital transfers, lots of which befell between FC Porto and FC Chelsea.

Zahavi’s lawyer wished to arrange himself within the telephone name with Mendes for follow-ups from the tax authorities. He hoped for details about business practices and his consumer’s position. He took notes in the course of the name. “Principally everybody within the soccer business is aware of Mr. Zahavi and that he used that affect and people contacts, together with membership chairmen and even some heads of state, to dealer participant offers.”

Like Man Metropolis’s chief monetary officer, Mendes additionally described how paper was now not as essential for Zahavi’s work because it had been again when the Israeli was a newspaper journalist. Zahavi’s commissions “are negotiated on a deal-by-deal foundation and all the time by cell phone.” He mentioned that’s how all offers between him and Zahavi had been executed.

For years, there had been a mannequin within the soccer business through which Zahavi was strongly concerned: so-called Third-Occasion Possession (TPO). It mainly labored like this: Buyers would purchase a share of Membership A’s switch rights of a hopeful skilled. If the participant’s market worth rose, the buyers would then steadily insist on the participant being bought onward to Membership B. The apply led to many golf equipment turning into dangerously depending on buyers; which is why FIFA banned TPO in Could 2015.

Some buyers, who for years had been suggested by Zahavi to place their cash to work within the switch rights of sure gamers, are hidden by an organization known as Leiston Holdings Restricted. It’s registered within the British Virgin Islands, the place the tax charge on revenue generated overseas is zero %, as can be the case in Gibraltar. These have been offers through which buyers might see an enormous return inside a really quick time period. As well as, such TPO transactions have been typically accompanied by big charges that have been channeled to tax havens.

Inside a TPO

The entire palette of doubtful transactions was illustrated by the case of the Serbian skilled Lazar Markovic, 24, who belongs to FC Liverpool and is at present on mortgage to the Belgian first division group RSC Anderlecht.

In April 2012, solely weeks after Markovic had turned 18, Leiston Holdings acquired 100 % of the participant’s switch rights from Partizan Belgrade. The value: 7 million euros.

Simply over a yr later, in June 2013, the striker was transfered to Benfica Lissabon. The Portuguese membership transferred 6.25 million euros to Leiston, however that sum was solely sufficient to safe half of Markovic’s switch rights.

One yr after that, in July 2014, Markovic was transferred to FC Liverpool, with the Premier League group paying a complete of 25 million euros for the participant. Of that, 12.5 million euros went to Benfica whereas the opposite 12.5 million euros went to Leiston. Inside simply over two years, Leiston had turned 7 million euros into 18.75 million euros — tucked away within the Caribbean, tax-free.

FIFA has a subsidiary, known as FIFA TMS, that paperwork all worldwide transfers. Kimberly Morris is the top of the Integrity and Compliance Division and he or she adopted these speculative offers extraordinarily carefully on the time, although the effectiveness of her spot checks trusted the golf equipment’ willingness to cooperate. And that willingness was not precisely pronounced.

After Markovic’s switch to Benfica, Morris turned suspicious. In March 2014, she wrote an e-mail to the membership executives at Partizan asking for “a quick abstract of the connection between your membership and Leiston Holdings Restricted.” She additionally requested entry to the contract between the corporate and Partizan.


The membership’s secretary basic delivered the doc, however Morris wasn’t glad. She wrote a second e-mail. Now she wished to know “whether or not there may be any connection between Leiston Holdings Ltd and Mr. Pinhas Zahavi?” She additionally checked whether or not Partizan had “every other separate settlement in relation to the switch of this participant or typically with Mr. Pinhas Zahavi?”

That, although, is so far as Morris acquired along with her investigation. The Soccer Leaks paperwork now present that she was heading in the right direction, as a result of Leiston had drawn up two additional suspicious contracts referring to the TPO deal. On Could 3, 2012, just some days after the acquisition of Markovic’s switch rights, Leiston agreed to make a cost of 250,000 euros to Sport & Extra, an organization registered within the state of New York. The person behind the corporate was the Serbian sports activities agent Nikola Damjanac. He apparently obtained his charge for supposedly serving to Leiston purchase Markovic’s switch rights.

Benedikt Rugar/ DER SPIEGEL

Simply making an attempt to comply with the money flows of the businesses Zahavi works for can at occasions be dizzying. Though Sport & Extra was a contractual associate, Damjanac later requested that Leiston pay the 250,000 euros to an organization in Malta named Lian Sports activities. A buddy of Zahavi’s, whom he refers to as “my man,” works for the corporate within the Balkans.

However that wasn’t all. Damjanac signed one other contract with Leiston referring to the matter of Lazar Markovic on Could 3, 2012. This time it was for a corporation named Goldline based mostly within the Swiss border city of Chiasso. Based on the contract, Leiston was to switch 2 million euros to Goldline. As soon as once more, the alleged purpose for cost was assist offered within the buy of Markovic’s switch rights.

‘Brokerage Providers’

Why would Leiston Holdings, suggested by Pini Zahavi, switch greater than 30 % of the 7 million euros invested in “brokerage providers” to 2 firms owned by the identical advisor? Have been there any causes apart from to cater to some good buddies? Neither Pini Zahavi nor Nikola Damjanac nor the corporations Lian Sports activities and Leiston Holdings would touch upon this suspicion.

Zahavi secured quite a few million-dollar TPO offers for Leiston, together with not less than one murky association involving underage expertise.

Danilo Pantic was 16 years outdated when Leiston acquired half of his switch rights on March 29, 2013. Like Markovic, the younger midfielder was a Partizan Belgrade participant, and his coaching contract ran till summer season 2015.

Leiston paid 1.7 million euros for its share of his switch rights. However that cash did not go to the membership itself in Belgrade. As an alternative it went to 2 firms based mostly on the island of Nevis, which belongs to the West Indies within the Caribbean. One is named TXL Investments and the opposite is SNR Restricted. Leiston Holdings transferred the cash to each firms’ accounts on the Financial institution of Valletta, a monetary establishment in Malta.

But it surely does not cease there. SNR transferred 500,000 euros to an organization known as Leary Spend money on the British Virgin Islands and it handed one other 170,000 euros on to an organization known as Guanta Gold based mostly in Belize in Central America. The 1.7 million euros paid by Leiston Holdings wound up at 4 firms — all based mostly in tax havens.

The salient element right here is that each TXL Investments and SNR Restricted within the West Indies, the place Leiston’s cash had initially landed, have been managed by a director of Lian Sports activities in Malta, which was additionally concerned within the million-euro offers within the Markovic case. Not one of the events concerned answered questions on why and for what objective the cash had been paid.

Final Beneficiaries

It was probably these sorts of shady offers that stored Werder Bremen from assembly with Zahavi way back to spring 2012. At the moment, Leiston had made a proposal to the Bremen membership of seven million euros for the switch rights for former German nationwide group participant Marko Marin.

At first, Werder had been ready to interact in talks. However the membership withdrew from the deal as a result of Leiston had apparently refused to reveal details about the construction of the corporate within the British Virgin Islands and its final beneficiaries. “We have been unable to resolve this situation to our satisfaction and according to our compliance requirements,” Werder Bremen advised journalists with EIC.

The investigative reporting community requested a written assertion from Zahavi on Oct. eight on all of the offers described on this article. It solely took just a few hours for Zahavi to reply. He wrote that he had by no means held a stake in Leiston Holdings and that he had by no means been a beneficiary. “I exploit to be soccer advisor (sic) of this firm (Leiston Holdings) in the course of the interval that TPO was authorized,” he wrote. Zahavi acknowledged that all the different questions have been “not related.”

Simply over per week later, although, Zahavi did agree to satisfy with an Israeli journalist representing EIC. The assembly befell within the upscale Sea and Solar residential complicated in northwest Tel Aviv, the place Zahavi owns a rental with magnificent views of the ocean.

Zahavi wore Bermuda shorts and a polo shirt and supplied the journalist a cup of espresso. Zahavi’s son Gil additionally sat on the desk and recorded the dialog. The agent mentioned he had agreed to a private assembly as a result of he feared the reporting would quantity to “libel,” based mostly on the questions concerning the Neymar deal. And that he wished to forestall that.

‘I Have Energy’

Zahavi put all of the paperwork related to the Neymar contract on the desk. These paperwork present that Paris Saint-Germain paid the primary installment of 1.49 million euros to not one in every of Zahavi’s firms in a tax haven, however to him personally. The cash went into an account held on the Israeli financial institution Hapoalim that Zahavi had opened expressly for the aim after concluding his consulting contract with PSG. Zahavi additionally mentioned that he has all the time taxed private revenue from his worldwide company income in Israel.

Benedikt Rugar/ DER SPIEGEL

Zahavi’s tone in the course of the dialog was aggressive. He even pounded the desk as soon as together with his hand. “So, pay attention: I did the most important transfers within the historical past of world soccer. There is not a giant deal on the planet the place I am not concerned,” the agent mentioned. “There is not any place in worldwide soccer the place I haven’t got affect and energy.”

Zahavi threatened that if a single declare was revealed that brought about him hurt, he would file the “greatest lawsuit in historical past” in opposition to the media organizations which might be members of EIC. “I am a robust man, I’ve energy.”

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