Investor’s Lawsuit Accuses 777 Partners of $600 Million Fraud

Investor’s Lawsuit Accuses 777 Partners of $600 Million Fraud

The American investment firm 777 Partners, whose bid to buy the English Premier League soccer team Everton has been on hold for months amid doubts about the company’s finances, was accused by one of its lenders on Friday of running a yearslong fraud scheme worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The accusation came in a lawsuit filed Friday in federal court in New York by Leadenhall Capital Partners, a London-based asset management company. It said that it had provided 777 Partners with more than $600 million in financing, only to discover that roughly $350 million in assets serving as collateral for the loans either were not in 777’s control or had already been pledged to other lenders.

The lawsuit is the latest, most serious claim against 777 Partners, which has for years made bold assertions about its financial health — it has previously claimed $10 billion in assets — even as it was trailed by a string of lawsuits, corporate failures and unpaid bills.

The suit could have immediate implications for 777’s stalled bid to buy Everton: The Premier League has not approved the sale, and the financially strapped club recently said it was seeking alternate investors.

But questions about the company’s balance sheet also carry the risk of contagion for the broader world soccer market, given that 777’s portfolio includes ownership stakes in teams in Australia, Brazil, Belgium, France and Germany, and because it owes debts at all of them.

Leadenhall’s lawsuit names a host of 777 companies as defendants, and also its two owners, Steven Pasko and Josh Wander, and their biggest financial backer, Kenneth King, and his firm, ACAP.

Leadenhall Capital Partners offered no further comment on Saturday about the court filing. ACAP, through a spokesman, called Leadenhall’s claims “baseless,” but did not deny it held the first claim on 777’s assets.

“ACAP, similar to Leadenhall Capital, serves as a lender to 777 — there are no ownership ties,” it said. “The key distinction lies in the fact that ACAP holds senior rights to collateral associated with 777.

777 Partners did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit or its accusations, and in recent months it has declined to respond to questions about its ability to close the Everton deal “out of respect for the process.”

But in an open letter to Everton fans posted on the team’s website last year, Mr. Wander acknowledged that questions had been raised about his company’s finances. “Rest assured,” he wrote then, “in this case, that the truth is far more boring than the fiction.”

Beyond its central accusation that 777 Partners had persuaded Leadenhall to lend it $350 million through a false representation of its assets, the claim includes details of behind-the-scenes discussions and investigations to resolve the matter.

In the filing, Leadenhall said it had begun to question its relationship with 777 after receiving an anonymous tip in 2022 charging that Mr. Wander had pledged assets that he either did not own or had already pledged elsewhere to secure new loans.

After looking into the tip and concluding that the accusation was true, Leadenhall said, its executives confronted Mr. Wander. In several recorded calls in March and April 2023, Leadenhall said in the lawsuit, Mr. Wander acknowledged that assets had been double-pledged, which he described as an “embarrassing mistake,” and pledged to fix the problem.

Upon further investigation, Leadenhall said, it discovered that all of 777’s assets were already pledged to a separate investment company, ACAP, run by Mr. King. In unusually blunt language, Leadenhall accused the 777 owners, Mr. Wander and Mr. Pasko, and ACAP of “operating a giant shell game at best, and an outright Ponzi scheme at worst.”

In the months since the announcement last fall of 777’s bid for Everton brought heightened scrutiny to his businesses and himself, Mr. Wander has repeatedly sought to assure the team’s fans that 777 Partners remains committed to its proposed acquisition. But executives and fans at other soccer clubs controlled by 777 Partners may be unnerved by the latest accusations and the possible consequences for their teams.

Last fall, for example, executives at the Brazilian club Vasco da Gama complained that a $25 million loan that 777 Partners had given Everton was similar to an amount that was, at that moment, still owed to Vasco. The money eventually arrived, but only after 777 Partners attributed the delay to a public holiday in the United States.

Elsewhere, concerns will likely continue to fester. At a match in France on Saturday, fans of another 777-owned club, Red Star F.C. of Paris, handed out fake bank notes bearing a photo of Mr. Wander and the words “In Josh We Don’t Trust.”

The protest, the notes said on their reverse side, “is a reflection of current owner of Red Star: an appearance of wealth that in fact conceals a lack of real economic stability, and an imminent disaster waiting to happen.”

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