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A fan is restrained by a steward and players after invading the St Andrews pitch in the derby between Birmingham City and Aston Villa. Photo: Reuters

Hong Kong-owned Birmingham City under EFL investigation

  • Blues have sold their St Andrews stadium to a subsidiary of ownership group to record US$11million loss
  • Club were docked nine points last season and supporters group Blues Trust demand answers of board over latest charge

Hong Kong-owned English Championship side Birmingham City are under investigation by the English Football League, the club confirmed.

“The club confirms that it has been charged with a breach of EFL Regulations in relation to a business plan imposed upon us in the 2018/19 season,” read a statement from the club.

“The club denies the charge and we await the outcome of ongoing disciplinary proceedings. We shall be making no further comment at this time.”

Birmingham City’s accounts were finally published on January 6 and they included the revelation that the club had sold their St Andrews ground to a subsidiary of their Hong Kong-listed, Cayman Islands-registered ownership group, Birmingham Sports Holding Limited.

The deal saw the stadium sold to Birmingham City Stadium Limited, another company owned by Paul Suen Cho-hung, for £22.8 million (US$29.9 million) to bring pre-tax losses down to £8.4 million (US$11 million) last season, under the £13 million (US$17 million) ceiling permitted by the EFL.

The club will lease back the stadium, which has been known as St Andrew’s Trillion Trophy Stadium since June 2018, for £1.25 million (US$1.6 million) a year for the next 25 years.

Fellow Championship sides Derby County and Sheffield Wednesday have sold their grounds back to themselves, with the Owls handed a misconduct charge by the EFL.

If found guilty, Birmingham could be docked points, although the Birmingham Mail reported that the club do not expect that.

The club were docked nine points last season for accruing losses of £48.8 million (US$64 million) over three years. They finished 17th in the 24-team league, 12 points clear of the relegation zone. Without the penalty they would have finished 14th.

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In the previous two seasons the club only escaped relegation on the final day. This season they sit 18th in the Championship and have lost five of their last seven games.

Supporters group Blues Trust released their own statement in response to the news, which they said was “of some surprise”.

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“Having been led to believe that in 2018/19 we were operating to an EFL imposed business plan which should have protected us from additional sanctions, we now discover that the truth is we appear to have been in breach of that plan.”

They speculated that the charge related to the new accounts.

“However, what cannot be speculated is that, once again, the supporters have been misled, and once again treated with contempt by the Club.”

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“It transpires that not only were the accounts alarming in their own right, they also concealed an important detail: that the Club have transferred ownership of the ground to another subsidiary.”

The Blues Trust has vowed to ask the board to clarify what the EFL charge regards.

Suen’s Trillion Trophy Asia took over the club in October 2016. They were previously owned by disgraced former Hong Kong hairdresser Carson Yeung Ka-sing, who took over in 2007.

A date is yet to be set for the EFL hearing.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Hong Kong-owned Birmingham City under investigation