Alleged Bin Laden loan raises questions of clean capital

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It emerged today that Sheffield United Football Club received a £3m loan from the Bin Laden family. The loan came to light in court during an ongoing trial as the club’s co-owners – Kevin McCabe and Prince Abdullah Bin Mosaad Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud – wrestle for control of the company.

Sheffield United FC, nicknamed ‘The Blades’, was only recently promoted to the Premier League.

Kevin McCabe was born in Sheffield and has a long-standing association with Sheffield United FC. He has invested an estimated £100m in the club to date.

Prince Abdullah Bin Mosaad Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud is Saudi royalty and grandson of King Abdulaziz, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia.

The pair met in 2013 when Mr McCabe was seeking new investors for the club, and Prince Abdullah offered to invest £10m. The working relationship later soured in 2017.

Kevin McCabe denies knowledge of the providence of the loan, but in any case, it highlights a thorny issue. How much responsibility should rest with businesses to vet their investors? Does it matter where capital comes from, if it is not used in unethical ways? What level of due diligence is it reasonable to expect from founders? And is there any such thing as clean capital?

Whether it is fair or not, business leaders are increasingly held to higher standards of transparency and ethical practice. You may think you cannot afford to turn down a loan – or even to spend the time carefully vetting investors. But equally, can you afford the public relations nightmare of getting it wrong?

The court heard today of an email to Kevin McCabe by a colleague, Jeremy Tutton. Tutton wrote in the email that he feared a potential headline in the Sheffield Star reading, “Blades launder money for extremists.” Mr McCabe now faces an uphill battle to prove his ignorance of the Bin Laden loan and restore his reputation.

There is no straightforward answer to the question of clean capital. Businesses need funding to start and scale, and you would be hard pressed to find a wholly unblemished investor – or human being, for that matter.

Perhaps avoid families associated with terrorism, however. Better safe than sorry.

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