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A FINANCIER advising the consortium bidding to take over Aston Villa was once charged in connection with a pounds 29 million Mafia extortion racket.

Leslie Greyling, 53, is believed to be helping the billionaire Comer brothers and Solihull businessman Michael Neville with their proposed buy-out of the club.

The South African, a convicted fraudster, was last weeknamed as the 'mystery' fourth figure in the consortium negotiating with chairman Doug Ellis about a transfer of power. Talks are continuing this weekend, with accountants from both sides poring over each other's books to see whether the bid is viable.

But news of Greyling's alleged ties to the world of organised crime will send shivers down the spines of Villa fans and investors alike.

It comes just a week after the Sunday Mercury revealed how property magnate Luke Comer once had his honesty called into question by a leading British judge.

Today we reveal the real story behind the last member of the team trying to take the reins at Villa Park. It includes: l The truth behind Greyling's chequered business past; l His role in a fraud bust described by American federal agents as the 'biggest dent ever made in the mob's influence on Wall Street'; l His friendship with infamous Iran-Contra arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, and l The trail of victims he left behind.

Greyling's involvement in the Comers' bid for Villa is thought to be restricted to bringing all the parties to the negotiating table.

It is understood he will step back from the consortium if a takeover is completed and will not join the club's board of directors.

But his criminal background raises yet another question about Villa's potential new owners Greyling was born on May 14, 1952, and grew up in a small industrial town on the outskirts of Johannesburg, where his father worked as an opera singer.

As a teenager he excelled at sport, winning local titles in gymnastics, tennis, rugby and riding.

He did not go on to university, instead setting up his own business as a real estate broker.

By the late 1970s he claims to have had 11 offices and more than 400 sales associates working under him. Yet despite his apparent success, the two largest Johannesburg newspapers said they could find no record of Mr Greyling in their archives.

Then in December 1985, Greyling decided to move to America.

Once there, he quickly established a string of new business ventures - illegally, under the terms of his visitor's visa.

They included shops, restaurants, travel companies, loan services and a car auction company.

His first brush with the law came in 1988, when he was arrested after failing to pay rent on a house in Ohio. Six years later, he lied on a fresh visa application by failing to disclose the arrest.

Despite living illegally in the US for 10 years, Greyling had enjoyed the high life.

He lived in a pounds 3.5 million beachfront mansion, drove a Rolls-Royce and claimed to be a close pal of US billionaire Donald Trump.

But his lies came back to haunt him in 1995 when a judge sentenced him to six months in jail, fined himpounds 2,900 and ordered his deportation from America.

The court heard that Greyling had indulged in a pattern of fraud, such as failing to pay for jewellery worth nearly pounds 50,000 - including emerald diamond earrings - from a Florida boutique.

Greyling's bizarre defence claimed that a local FBI informant had threatened him repeatedly, forcing him to go into the store to buy the jewels so he could get a commission. After serving his sentence, Greyling was due to be deported.

But instead, American federal agents immediately charged him with another multi-million pound fraud, nicknamed a 'pump and dump' scam.

Investigators had already sensed that Greyling was trouble, imposing a court order instructing him to stop defrauding investors back in October 1991.

Yet in late 1993, press releases were sent out by Greyling's casino and gaming company, MSC, claiming the firm was about to announce good news for shareholders.

The releases instantly sent MSC's share price soaring, 'pumping' the stock to record highs.

What they failed to mention was that MSC was in dire financial straits, with an operating loss for the first half of 1993 of pounds 230,000 and with revenue slipping by 86 per cent.

Investors who bought MSC shares saw their value eventually dip to less than five pence, costing them millions of pounds.

Meanwhile, Greyling made a cash killing.

When people complained, Greyling blamed them for buying MSC shares in the first place"At the time they make their investment, they say 'Yeah, I'm a big boy, I'm wealthy, I'll take a gamble, I'll roll the dice," he said.

In a last-ditch bid to boost MSC's fortunes, Greyling hired Saudi Arabian businessman Adnan Kashoggi, the middleman caught up in the arms-to-Iran scandal in America in the 1980s InMay1994, Greyling boasted that Kashoggi, a 'personal acquaintance', was being hired for 'his considerable business contacts' to locate 'sources of financing' for MSC.

But the gamble failed and Government fraudbusters moved in.

Greyling spent a year in jail for the fraud, despite hiring OJ Simpson's former lawyer, F. Lee Bailey, to fight his case.

He was also banned for life from becoming an officer or director of a public limited company.

Greyling was finally deported from the States in April 1997 and set up home in Tunbridge Wells in Kent.

Then, in June 2000, Greyling was one of 120 people charged with a pounds 29 million fraud described by US attorney Mary Jo White as 'thebiggest dent we've ever made in the mob's influence on Wall Street.' Each of the five chief Mafia families of La Cosa Nostra was represented in the arrests, which followed a probe into internet-based fraud schemes as well as old-fashioned violence.

The Mafiosi charged featured representatives from the Bonnano and Colombo families.

Part of the indictment read: "The various schemes resulted in total losses of more than approximately $50 million, and many tens of millions more would have resulted had the schemes been completed.

"This is the largest number of defendants ever arrested on securities fraud-related charges and one of the largest number ever arrested in a criminal case of any kind Greyling was arrested in London and investigators described him as a 'prime suspect'.

Robert Knuts, a senior attorney at the Securities and Exchange Commission in New York, said at the time: "Certainly, Mr Greyling tops the list. He's previously been convicted of securities fraud."

Greyling was due to be extradited to the States. But the then Home Secretary, Jack Straw, ruled that insider trading was not covered by Britain's extradition treaty with America and Greyling was released on June 21, 2000.

Last night, Michael Neville declined to comment on Greyling's involvement in the takeover bid.

Mr Greyling was unavailable for comment


FLASHBACK: how we reported the secret past of takeover tycoons the Comer brothers Luke (left) and Brian; MURKY PAST: financier Leslie Greyling was charged over a pounds 29 million mob extortion racket; in our exclusive last week. Right, Iran-Contra arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, a ex-associate of Greyling
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Nov 13, 2005
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