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THIS is the centre of Joe Dhinsa's empire. The hub of his multi- million pound business. It's a very ordinary office in a very ordinary block on the outskirts of Reading.

It's called Berkshire House, and is on a main road into Reading. A sign outside says it offers rented office space.

Inside, there's a small reception, shared by each of the companies in the building. Athlone International, Mr Dhinsa's firm, is listed on a sign on the wall.

I asked to see the man who tried to take over the Sky Blues, but who dramatically pulled out today. I was met minutes later by a woman who said he had meetings all day.

I persisted and 10 minutes later the woman re-emerged to say Mr Dhinsa could find time for me after all.

Led up the flight of stairs, I came to a first floor corridor with sofas in a reception area and small rooms with glass fronts on either side, several occupied by business people.

Mr Dhinsa's own office, about 10ft by 5ft, was at the end of the corridor and he greeted me from behind a wooden desk with a computer screen and keyboard.

Like the building itself, it was very ordinary and very typical. It could have been almost anyone's office with its fax machine, telephone, calculator and mobile phone on the desk.

The room was otherwise bare, with no pictures or any display of wealth.

A surprised Mr Dhinsa, aged 30, dressed casually in a black, long-sleeved shirt, jeans and black shoes, said: "You should have told me you were coming, I would have done my hair."

It seemed a world away from the pounds 2.2million 10-bedroom mansion he later told me he lives in at plush Virginia Water, Surrey.

And despite persistent questioning about his wealth, he refused to be drawn.

Every query about money, cars, or houses, was met with an answer lasting several minutes which could have been summarised in four words - "I'm not telling you".

He said Athlone International, a business equity firm, had 18 employees and occupied three offices in Berkshire House.

I asked several times to meet his staff or visit the other rooms but the request was turned down and Mr Dhinsa said he did not know if they were working that day.

Asked whether he owned 17 luxury cars, as has been reported, Mr Dhinsa said he did not, but that he owned seven cars, including a Lamborghini Gallardo.

To emphasise the point, he twice phoned a Lamborghini dealership in London and a voice on a speaker-phone maintained that he did indeed own a Lamborghini.

I asked to see one of the cars and Mr Dhinsa said he kept the vehicles at garages around Reading and in the Midlands, including near Coventry.

Each of the questions was met with a similar response: "That is not relevant and I do not see why I have to show you my cars/house/bank account."

Mr Dhinsa said he had recently paid just over pounds 2.1million for an apartment in Belgravia, London, and had an office in London, which he offered to show me.

He refused to let me see the property in Virginia Water, saying "it's personal and I do not want to show it".

The conversation stretched to half an hour and the same woman who had led me to the office popped her head in at regular intervals, telling Mr Dhinsa a client was waiting.

He insisted there was nothing unusual about working from such an office.

He said: "There are other people who are pulling on strings when it comes to me.

"If I wanted to hide from you, if I was embarrassed by our offices, I could have refused to see you, but I have not done that.

"I have been open with my answers."

Mr Dhinsa put on a black jacket before walking me to the front door downstairs.

Then the man who pledged to invest millions in Coventry City returned to his desk to manage his business empire.

Joe's old neighbours remember the Ferrari

DURING my conversation in the office, Joe Dhinsa mentioned he had owned a house in Reading.

Once we left, I went with our photographer to his old address, in Moor Copse Close, about three miles from Berkshire House.

The road is a cul-de-sac in a suburban area.

When we knocked on Mr Dhinsa's old front door a man answered and said he had bought the property from him four months ago.

The man said he had paid pounds 250,000 for the house and said Mr Dhinsa had told him he was moving to a new place in Virginia Water.

Other neighbours said they had not known Mr Dhinsa well but said he had owned several expensive cars, including a Bentley and a Ferrari.

The bid for the Sky Blues

April 27: Mr Dhinsa announces he wants to buy Coventry City. He says he is part of a consortium of six business people who are in the "early stages" of putting together a multi-million pound package.

April 28: Coventry City chairman Mike McGinnity challenges Mr Dhinsa "put up or shut up" over the plans.

May 8: The pair meet for the first time at The Hilton Hotel, at Walsgrave Triangle.

July 3: Coventry City condemn renewed speculation over a takeover bid from Mr Dhinsa as "disruptive".

August 14: Mr Dhinsa tells the Evening Telegraph he's willing to bid pounds 100million for the Sky Blues.

October: Mr McGinnity accuses Mr Dhinsa of a "disgraceful stunt" in leafleting fans before a match at Highfield Road. Mr Dhinsa said he was bringing his bid forward to November from the end of the season as he wanted to demonstrate his commitment to the club with "hard cash and hard work".

November 15 - An e-mail sent to the club says a bid will be made in two weeks.

November 30 - The deadline passes and no bid is made by Mr Dhinsa who says he wants more information about the club's finances.

December 2 - The Sky Blues chairman says he is at the end of his tether with the situation.

December 15 - Joe Dhinsa officially pulls out of the bid.


D23482_12. CASUAL STYLE: Joe running things from his office. He said: 'If I knew you were coming, I'd have done my hair.' Pictures: JAMES BALFOUR; D23482_17. CUL-DE-SAC LOCATION: Dhinsa's old address in Reading; FED UP: Mike McGinnity 'at the end of his tether'
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Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Dec 15, 2004
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