Oh my giddy aunt. We have got used to the periodic spouting of nonsense by our absent owner, sufficiently to just be mildly amused by the further evidence (if such were needed) that he has no grasp of logic or reality. But when his sidekick delivers the same sort of gobbledygook you really do wonder how any prospective buyer of our club could get any sense out of either of them. And what is more incredible is that the responses to the questions put to him in his absence at the recent Fans Forum meeting are not off-the-cuff remarks but considered, written replies.
I don’t know if Lieven de Turck has had formal legal training, or if like his boss (who to reiterate should be paying his fees, not our club – the statement describes de Turck as “representing the club in takeover talks”, which is not the truth; our club is a separate entity from our owner, our owner is – allegedly – trying to sell an asset, our club, and de Turck is working for him) he just believes he has expertise or insight in areas where he patently does not. If he has, I’d suggest he could submit a decent claim to get back the fees he paid. The replies are available on the club website, in case anyone wants to check.
Question 1: Is Charlton a more sellable club now it is in the Championship?
Everyone in the room presumably realised that this was a leading question, given Duchatelet’s remark in his post-Wembley statement that “the fact Charlton are now back in the Championship should increase our chances of being sold”. The question is really therefore ‘do you agree with your boss and if so why haven’t we been sold yet?’ Instead de Turck goes off on a tangent and suggests that “some fans question why the owner is very transparent regarding not only the positive, but also the negative points of owning the club”. And who might these fans be? Then “some think we should not speak about the negatives to increase the chances to sell the club”. Now does anyone for a moment think that a prospective buyer will not already know exactly what he/she/they are getting into, or that the chances of concluding a sale will be altered one iota by whatever Duchatelet says publicly about the pros and cons? Of course not.
Then he just gets sillier. “It is a matter of culture and ethics not to fool others”. Just words not supported by the evidence; Duchatelet has tried to blame others for his failure to conclude a sale and is utterly opaque when it suits him to be; and as we see below de Turck is quite happy to try to provide confusion where no confusion exists. “A seller has the legal obligation to inform candidate buyers properly”. I think you’ll find that such obligations fall within the parameters of the due diligence process, not some ‘thought of the day’ comment from our owner.
OK, that stuff’s just silly, de Turck (and Duchatelet) really shouldn’t judge others by their own standards. What follows on the more pertinent issue of the ex-directors’ loans is where de Turck is obviously out of his depth – or trying to be misleading.
Question 2: It has previously been said that the former directors’ loans are not an issue, now it appears they are an issue. Has this changed? If so, why?
De Turck acknowledges that “the club can be sold with the loans in place”. Fair enough. But he then says that there are “two debates” concerning them. The first, apparently, is does the loan repayment expire?
The wording cited is “The loan shall be repaid in five (5) equal instalments payable on 31 August in each year in which the Club competes in the Premier League up to a maximum of 5 years in any period from (the date of this deed)”. De Turck says “please note the wording ‘up to’. Those words can only make sense if, under some circumstances, the number of periods of repayment can be ‘less than’ five years, which would imply an expiry date”. What utter nonsense. It is hardly surprising that the deed outlines the conditions under which the loans would start to be repaid, and the terms: equal instalments up to a maximum of five years. If there was no maximum number of instalments the loans could be ‘repaid’ at a penny a year, ad infinitum; and five years (or instalments) is deemed the maximum because of course if desired the loans could be paid off sooner than that, should the other party wish. There is no expiry date, stated or implied, and to try to suggest that this wording forms the basis for one is either incompetence or duplicity.
There’s more. Another quote from the deed. “For the avoidance of doubt, it is acknowledged and agreed that no repayments of the Loan will be made at any time when the Club is competing in a football league other than the Premier League”. I think we all understand that. Except that De Turck says “this gives the impression that a stay in a football league other than the Premier League interrupts the repayment. However, that is not what it says”. Come again? It is exactly what it says. De Turck suggests that this might make it an ‘eternal agreement’, something he describes as “very unusual in legal terms”, adding that eternal agreements “cause confusion and create a mess”. They are indeed unusual as normally the person extending the loan requires a final settlement date. What de Turck calls “confusion” is the ex-directors having been exceedingly accommodating in their repayment terms. I’d suggest de Turck does not try to use that leniency as a means to try to muddy the waters.
We move on to the second ‘debate’, whether the Club is obliged to secure the ex-directors’ consent for anything. De Turck states: “Some of the ex-directors say they can object to assets within the BATON Ltd holding to be moved (that’s his incorrect wording, not mine) or reorganized. However, when the previous owner sold the club to the current owner, one of the options presented at the time of the sale was to sell The Valley land for development and move the stadium next to The O2, without any reference to the need of agreement of ex-directors which would seem to contradict this”.
Now I don’t think you need to be of above average intelligence to point out to de Turck that whatever was said by the owners before Duchatelet in the context of their attempts to sell our club should have been – and would have been by any sensible buyer – taken with a very large pinch of salt. And an ‘option presented’ is not the same as a legal document. This may reflect badly on the previous owners, but it is hardly a reason for suggesting that the ex-directors do not indeed have a legal hold over certain assets. If that issue went to court, do you think that a judge would be won over by the suggestion of such an ‘option’? I believe the phrase is caveat emptor. Or in the case of Duchatelet, if you didn’t ask/find out about the ex-directors and their loans before you bought our club more fool you.
De Turck goes on to say “some candidate buyers may want to use the fixed assets of the Club as collateral for loans, which can’t be done with the ex-directors in place”. Well tough. They either accept the limitation, offer a way around it (including telling Duchatelet to sort out that problem before they buy), or walk away. It’s like me turning up at the Club and saying I’d like to buy it but don’t have any money.
There is another section on the price being asked by Duchatelet but that quotes Rick Everitt with a slur to follow. I’ll leave that for others to discuss. Suffice to say that if I was De Turck I would – like most of the incompetent managers (and players) Duchatelet has lumped us with over the years – just take the money for services rendered and consider myself grateful to have found a boss who values my advice, because I’d guess there aren’t many of them, perhaps only one.