Harry Redknapp: Tottenham manager for now . . .

LONDON: Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp was restored to his place as overwhelming favourite to become the next manager of England after he and Milan Mandaric were cleared of tax evasion charges today at Southwark Crown Court writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

Mandaric, owner of Sheffield Wednesday, said on the court steps that he had always had faith in British justice and this was the end of a “horrible dream.”

The jury’s verdict also cleared the judge to release the decision of another court that, three months ago,  Peter Storrie had been cleared of tax offences. Storrie was chief executive at Portsmouth at the time when the financial affairs of then manager Redknapp and then owner Mandaric were the subject of investigation by the tax authorities.

The saga involved accusations of tax evasion over a payment made into an offshore account. The jury returned unanimous verdicts of not guilty on all counts against both men.

Redknapp and Mandaric hugged in court. Redknapp said on leaving: “I want to thank my legal team and everybody at Tottenham. If [chairman] Daniel Levy had ever had any doubts – this was going on three years ago – he would never have employed me. He knew this was a case which should never have come to court. I’d like to thank the fans: the Wigan game last week was the most moving I’ve ever felt, to have them singing my name while all this was going on.  I’ll never forget it.”

He thanked – “most important of all” – his family, including former international and now TV pundit Jamie Redknapp, for their support and added: “We’ve been pulled through it these last five years and I’m looking forward to getting home and getting away from all this. It’s been a nightmare a case which should never have come to court. I’ts unbelievable. Horrendous. The jury came to a unanimous decision there was no case to answer. ”

Jurors accepted Redknapp’s angry denials that he avoided tax on any payments over £189,000 found in a Monaco account. His acquittal alongside co-defendant Milan Mandaric blows the final whistle on a five-year £8m police investigation which failed to yield a single conviction. Mandaric and Storrie had been cleared of £600,000 tax dodge claims at the previous trial.

The two-week trial had threatened to derail Redknapp’s progress at the pinnacle of his 30-year managerial career and mark a disastrous end of an exhaustive inquiry into football corruption by tax authorities and City of London Police.

Police began pursuing Redknapp in 2006 after he admitted having the Monaco account as he was questioned by the Quest inquiry into Premier League bungs. The transactions took place as the pair squabbled over a transfer bonus Redknapp was due for the £3m profit the club made on the sale of England striker Peter Crouch.

But the jury accepted Redknapp’s claim that he knew he was “morally but not legally” entitled to the cash. A recorded telephone conversation between News of the World reporter Rob Beasley and the pair in 2009 was a pivotal element in the Crown’s case.

Redknapp telling Mr Beasley it was money for transfer bonuses was “the most compelling and important evidence”, prosecutor John Black QC said. But defence barrister John Kelsey-Fry QC said the Sunday tabloid’s evidence was “primarily despicable”. Judge Anthony Leonard made no comment other than to discharge the jury.

Chris Martin, of HM Revenue and Customs, said in a statement: “We have no regrets about pursuing this case because it was vitally important that the facts were put before a jury for their consideration. We accept the verdict of the jury but I would like to remind those who are evading tax by using offshore tax havens that it always makes sense to come forward and talk to us before we come to talk to you.”

Tottenham ‘delight’

A Tottenham statement said: “Everyone at the club is delighted for Harry and his family. This has been hanging over him for over four years and the last two weeks have been particularly difficult. We are pleased to see this resolved and we all look forward to the rest of the season.”

Sheffield Wednesday chairman Mandaric issued a statement on the club’s official website which read: “I am delighted I have today been cleared of these totally unfounded allegations of tax evasion. It is clear they should have never have been brought to court. I never doubted the truth would prevail nor the fact that the British justice system would come to the right conclusion.

“I came to Britain 12 years ago because of my love of football and have since saved three much loved football clubs which were on the brink of extinction. As a result I have saved thousands of jobs and paid tens of millions of pounds into the public purse through tax. To suggest I would cheat the tax man is highly offensive to me, my family, my associates and friends. I am happy that my good name and reputation have been upheld.”