The 100 million euro ($115 million) bank guarantee given by Cambodia’s Prince Norodom Ravichak in support of his bid to buy French soccer club Saint-Etienne was a forgery, club president Bernard Caiazzo told RFA on Monday.
“It took some time to figure out, but in the end, all the specialists said this document was a fake document,” Caiazzo said.
A statement released by the club on Monday said that a complaint would be filed against the prince with the public prosecutor in the club’s hometown “for acts of forgery, use of forgery and attempted fraud.”
“It’s completely crazy,” Caiazzo said. “He sent this [fake] document from a big bank, I can’t say which. It was a foreign bank but one of the top three in its country.”
The club’s suspicions were aroused when it emerged that the signature of the bank’s representative on the guarantee belonged to an individual who had not worked for the bank for several years, Caiazzo added.
Representatives of Ravichak did not respond to RFA requests for comment on Monday.
His bid to take over Saint-Etienne had come with big public promises to revitalize it. The club is one of the best-known in France, but it has struggled both on the pitch and financially in recent years.
“My goal today is to take care of Saint-Étienne and all those who work to restore this club to its rightful place in French and European football,” he told Radio France International in September.
Ravichak is a nephew of Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni. His public image is of a businessman and philanthropist.
But Monday’s news was not the first controversy to strike the prince’s failed bid for the club. RFA reported in September on 47-year-old Ravichak’s extensive business ties to French nationals Ahmed and Abdelkader Bessedik. In recent years, the Qatar-based brothers have been linked to allegations that Nasser Al Khelaifi, the president of Paris Saint-Germain soccer club, bribed a senior official in FIFA, soccer’s international governing body.
All involved have denied any wrongdoing. The Swiss court adjudicating the matter found that none were guilty of a criminal offence, but that nonetheless a “corruptive arrangement” had been entered into and that “unfair and unlawful behavior” had been engaged in.
In a September column for Eurosport that cited RFA’s report, French football journalist Philippe Auclair speculated that perhaps the Bessediks – who he described as “part of the immediate entourage of the president of PSG [Paris Saint Germain]” – were involved in Ravichak’s bid for Saint-Étienne.
A photo posted to social media by a French Khmer entrepreneur last month showed Ravichak dining in a restaurant with two former players for Paris Saint-Germain – midfielder Edwin Murati and goalkeeper Jean-Michel Moutier – and Sokan Oum, a Cambodian diplomat who holds the title of counsellor at the Kingdom’s Paris embassy.
Vibol Oum, who posted the photo to LinkedIn, told RFA that the prince’s bid for Saint-Étienne was not discussed at what he described as “just a friendly lunch.” He declined to say who organized the meal.
Caiazzo told RFA on Monday evening that he did not know whether the Bessediks were involved in Ravichak’s bid for the club. Saint-Etienne’s president said he never met the prince as Ravichak conducted all his dealings with the club through a lawyer.
Ravichak’s attempted takeover of the club was the subject of what Caiazzo described as wildly inaccurate reporting in the press.
“They said he had 500 million euros. This is bullshit,” he told RFA.
Saint-Étienne’s current shareholders, who include club president Caiazzo, are now clearly eager to see Ravichak punished for what they allege was his attempt to defraud them.
The club president said Ravichak’s big promises for St. Etienne a couple of months ago had set alarm bells ringing.
“Normally, all the very serious [buyers], they don’t speak. They don’t speak because it’s not in their interest to speak,” Caiazzo said. “When I see people speaking in the media, most of the time it’s because they are not serious and they have not got the money.”
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