On mentioning the name of Maksim Bakiev, the former Kyrgyz president's wayward son, it's often mentioned that he's a part owner of Blackpool Football Club (FC)
, a small seaside team that this year was promoted to the top flight of English soccer, the Premier League.
After lurking in the lower divisions for the last 40 years, Blackpool have had a meteoric rise of late, climbing four divisions in eight years.
The money man behind Blackpool's success is Valery Belokon
, a Latvian businessman with his fingers in lots of post-Soviet pies. In 2006, Belokon invested 4.5 million pounds ($6.7 million)
through his VB Football Assets company to buy a 20 percent stake in the club. How much money he has poured in since then is unknown.
With Bakiev junior arrested this week in England
and amid widespread speculation that the Bakiev clan has had some role in the recent ethnic tensions in southern Kyrgyzstan, Blackpool FC have gone on the record to deny Bakiev's involvement with the club. (I have contacted the club twice with questions about Bakiev's involvement with Blackpool, but have not yet received a response.)
From Blackpool's "Gazette":
[Blackpool] and Mr Belokon's representatives today denied the link and said Mr Bakiyev had no interests in the Seasiders.
Club secretary Matt Williams told The Gazette: "He's not a shareholder of Blackpool Football Club and never has been.
"With regards to him being an associate of Mr Belokon, that's a question you'd have to ask him."
Through the football club, a spokesman for Mr Belokon added: "Mr Bakiyev does not and has never had any relationship with Blackpool FC or VB Football Assets which is 100 per cent owned by Valery Belokon."
The real question now, of course, as asked by Shaun Walker, writing in Britain's "Independent,"
is "whether any of the money invested by Mr Belokon actually came from Mr Bakiyev."
A report aired on Kyrgyz state television in October suggested that Mr Bakiyev was one of the owners of Blackpool, and in email communications with The Independent last November, a PR professional acting on behalf of Mr Bakiyev referred to him as "one of the owners of Blackpool Football Club in England".
But [Blackpool chairman] Oyston insisted that Blackpool was unaware of any connection. "I know that Valery Belokon is operating in Kyrgyzstan," he said. "It's quite natural that he would know all the political players there, but to my knowledge this man has never even been to a Blackpool match."
The two men have reportedly had close business links in the past. As RFE/RL's Richard Solash noted in May:
Businessman Valery Belokon splits the ownership of the investment company Maval Aktivi with Maksim, and Maksim is deputy chairman of Belokon’s Riga-based brewing company, Kimmels. Maksim has also reportedly helped Belokon set up a gold-mining company and a bank in Kyrgyzstan.
Buying an English soccer club is the epitome of oligarch respectability, eclipsing those wannabees who moor yachts in San Tropez or educate their children in elite private schools. But despite touting himself as Kyrgyzstan's Roman Abramovich
, Bakiev's oligarch dreams appear to be over, dashed by his arrest, the likely nationalization of his business interests, and his possible extradition back to Kyrgyzstan to face corruption charges. It's not exactly the Riviera.
-- Luke Allnutt